Twenty Malawians have been confirmed dead in the fire that ripped a five-storey apartment block in Johannesburg, South Africa on Thursday.
Malawi High Commissioner to South Africa, Stella Ndau, has confirmed to the local media, saying her office is still gathering information on the identities of the victims.
In the wee hours of Thursday, fire gutted a five-storey building, located at the corner of Alberts and Delvers Street in Johannesburg’s central business district.
Authorities say 74 people including 12 children have died while 52 have sustained injuries following the blaze.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Elis Daras, a Malawian expat living in South Africa said she received a phone call from friends at around 8am (06:00 GMT) on Thursday, informing her of a fire at a building where her husband, Solomon Daras lived.
The 37-year-old immediately rushed to the scene from Mayfair, a suburb west of the city, but had not heard any news about her husband at the time of the interview.
“I haven’t heard anything about Solomon. We don’t know whether he is dead or at the hospital”.
While emergency services officials conducted their search of the building, Elis and a group of women waited on a pavement two streets away from the scene, Al Jazeera reported.
The building has about 15,000 unhoused people, according to the Gauteng provincial government.
Lebogang Isaac Maile, the head of Gauteng’s Department of Human Settlements, said some of the victims of the fire may have been renting from criminal gangs illegally collecting fees.
“There are cartels who prey on who are vulnerable people. Because some of these buildings, if not most of them, are actually in the hands of those cartels who collect rent from the people,” he told reporters at the scene.
He added that the fire “demonstrates a chronic problem of housing in our province as we’ve previously said that there’s at least 1.2 million people who need housing.”
During a news conference at the site of the fire, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the incident needed to be investigated and lessons learnt to prevent future tragedies.
“It’s a wake-up call for us to begin to address the situation of housing in the inner city,” the South African leader said, according to the BBC.