Usindiso building went from housing less than 50 women to more than 400 people, inquiry hears
A woman who lived in the Usindiso building in Johannesburg when it was still a shelter for abused women says things started changing when the owner of the shelter left.
Andiswa Ndlebu told the commission of inquiry into the deadly fire in Marshalltown, which killed 77 people last year, that they had reported the influx to the police but the situation did not change.
“We were less than 50 women living in the shelter before it was abandoned. The owner left without notifying us. We saw the security guards bringing people in, at the time it was only women.
“They were renting the vacant rooms out. Then women who lived there started to rent the rooms out,” Ndlebu told the commission chaired by former justice Sisi Khampepe on Thursday.
She said the building went from accommodating 50 women to more than 400 people.
Ndlebu said they were not paying for electricity and water. The City of Johannesburg then cut the water supply.
“We ended up using water from a fire extinguisher,” said Ndlebu.
Thobeka Biyela told the commission that though she had not personally lost a loved one, she was pained to have lost people she lived with.
“I took my child outside and handed her to my friend and I went back inside to get a bag, I couldn’t take any other belongings,” she said.
Her child had inhaled too much smoke. She tried to go buy milk for her but all shops were closed.
“We sat outside and I realised that my boyfriend had gone to look for his brothers. I just sat outside and held my baby. What I heard at the time is that the fire truck came and there was no water. It was painful to see that people we lived with had died, people you shared a place with,” said Biyela.
She said after being moved to temporary accommodation at the Denver shacks, life has been unbearable.
“We live in shacks, it’s not a good life. We are only women, some of us are alone or live with children, and there is no gate, no security as the ones who were initially posted there left. Some women have to work and come home late.”
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