Johannesburg | A building collapses

After a building falls, a game of footie

A four-storey building constructed in 1901 in central Johannesburg was at the centre of strange, ultimately tragic sequence of events. Gutted by a fire on February 25, large parts of this building dramatically collapsed on March 21, Humans Rights Day, this after scrap recyclers stripped the exposed structure of its vital steel supports. The collapse happened in two phases, within about 15 minutes of each other, sending rubble into the street as passersby ran for cover.

No people were killed and only one was injured. Informal traders repairing and selling second-hand mattresses on the corner of End and Jeppe streets took the brunt. One tradesman was taken to hospital with mild bruising.

The privately owned building was not officially occupied following the fire but nearby residents watching rescue operations claimed it was occupied at night. According to a 2010 Médecins Sans Frontières report, at least 30,000 people—many Zimbabwean refugees—live in 45 derelict buildings in central Johannesburg. A follow-up briefing from 2011 stated that over 80% of patients in MSF’s clinic in the CBD came from the city’s numerous derelict buildings.

Two days after the Jeppe Street collapse, bursts of animated cheering could be heard from the self-same block. Nearby residents had taken cheeky advantage of the blocked-off street, establishing an impromptu night-time football arena adjacent the collapsed wired-off building site, between two yellow “Do Not Enter” police ribbons. Rubber tyres marked the goalposts.

But, this laughter turned to tragedy when, on March 28, a large section of the condemned building collapsed, killing two occupants, one an 18-year-old twin brother. The building had been awaiting demolition when the incident occurred.

—KG & SoT

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