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Survivors Share Harrowing Tales from Johannesburg CBD Fire



Survivors of horrific Joburg building fire tell their stories Fire Omar Arafat holds a photo of his sister Joyce Arafat. Her whereabouts after Thursday’s fire in a building in Johannesburg City Centre are currently unknown

Amidst the horrifying chaos of the Johannesburg CBD fire, Adam Time, originally from Malawi, recalls his neighbours’ panicked cries of “Fire! Fire!” abruptly rousing him from sleep around 1 a.m. on that fateful Thursday morning. He and his wife, Joyce Arafat, had been residing in their second-floor apartment at 80 Albert Street for a year. Their home was now shrouded in smoke as reported by African Insider.

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Time woke his wife and their child in the frantic moments that followed, but a locked door blocked their escape. Desperate to save their child, he implored Joyce to pass their child to someone waiting below through the window. He then took the brave leap to safety himself. Regrettably, his wife did not follow. Time vividly recalls seeing her gazing anxiously out of the window, but that was his last glimpse of Joyce.

The details of the escape from the second floor to the ground remain hazy, as the aftermath of such a traumatic event can blur memories and descriptions.

Time expressed his anguish with tears in his eyes, saying, “I tried to go back to find her, but the entrance to the building was on fire, and people stopped me from going through. All of us should have jumped out of the window together.” He continued to shout for his wife, but there was no response.


As the death toll surpassed 70, Time anxiously awaited news of his wife’s fate, unsure if she was alive and hospitalized or if her lifeless body had been recovered.

Omar Arafat, Joyce’s brother, carries the burden of guilt for not being able to rescue his sister. He searched for her before escaping through a third-floor window. However, he only regained consciousness several hours later.

“Everything happened so fast,” said Omar, who had joined Joyce in South Africa at the end of 2022. He clutched a photo of his sister as he shared his ordeal.

The ill-fated building, primarily housing immigrants from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and a few South Africans, had once served as a shelter for abused women and children. However, it fell victim to hijackers in 2021. Many women and children who had sought refuge there had fled to nearby and safer buildings.

During Herman Mashaba’s tenure as mayor, residents were reportedly asked to vacate the building, but some chose to stay, paying monthly rents ranging from R800 to R1,600 to the hijackers. To ease the financial burden, some families shared rooms. Amidst the evident chaos within the building, residents tried to maintain peace within their homes.


Atoo Makanjira, another survivor from Malawi, has resided in the building for four years. He awoke that fateful morning but couldn’t access the building’s entrance. He, too, escaped through a window on the first floor, leaving behind four roommates and friends who are still missing. Together, they shared a room to cover the R1,600 rent.

In search of her friends Swaga and Blessing, Poshia Sithole from Ruwa, Zimbabwe, returned to the building but couldn’t locate them. She had left the building in early August due to the rampant gangsterism and drug dealing that plagued its halls.

Sam Mandebvu, also from Zimbabwe, lamented the loss of everything he possessed in the fire.

Miriam Mutasa, who was at work when she learned of the fire, rushed home and was fortunate to rescue her two children.

The Great Hope Organisation and Funeral, which offers burial and repatriation services for deceased Zimbabweans, reported over ten Zimbabweans missing in the fire. Moreboys Munetsi, from the organization, pledged food donations, temporary accommodation for survivors, and repatriation assistance for Zimbabweans who perished in the fire.


“We are saddened by the situation and call upon Zimbabweans to reach out and help our fellows in need. We are having to deal with many cases of Zimbabweans who die under sad circumstances,” Munetsi said, highlighting the ongoing challenges the Zimbabwean community faces.

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Photo: Facebook / @Africaninsider

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