SACBC: Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives, families
SACBC Statement On The Tragic Fire At Albert Street, Johannesburg
The death of 74 people in the fire at 80 Albert Street in Johannesburg is a tragedy of horrific proportions reminiscent of the Grenfell Towers fire in London in 2017. Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives, those affected by the fire, their families, and their loved ones. In collaboration with other faith organisations, we will strive to provide the needed pastoral care and assistance.
We are gratified and inspired by the first responders who reached the inferno within ten minutes, and we express our deepest appreciation to them.
The real culprits of this tragedy are those slumlords who capture such buildings and who unscrupulously exploit the homeless and the poor, forcing them to live in inhumane and dangerous situations while charging them rent for the “privilege” to live in such death traps. It is symptomatic of the widespread sense of lawlessness that prevails in our country that such illegality is allowed to happen and goes unpunished.
We have also been deeply disturbed by some political statements that attempt to diminish the depth of the tragedy because illegal immigrants are among those killed. Those who died were people – our brothers and sisters – and to dismiss them as “illegal immigrants” perpetuates the dangerous anti-immigrant rhetoric that is being normalised. The remark by the Minister in the Presidency that “it’s not the government’s task to provide homes for undocumented immigrants” is disingenuous in its attempt to shift blame and scapegoat foreign nationals – as if some lives are less important than others. Such a cold, un-compassionate response from a senior leader in government is profoundly disturbing.
The outrage we feel should not be confined to the tragedy of this particular loss of life, but should extend to the fact that there are still so many tens of thousands of poor, homeless people who are forced by circumstances to live in such dangerous situations where basic safety laws are not observed, and illegality is not dealt with.
We support the President in his call for an investigation into the root causes and we appreciate the sobriety of his statement that we are all to blame for what has happened.
Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
1 September 2023