The fire broke out at around 01.30 (local time), although the cause of the blaze is not yet known. The local press is calling it the deadliest fire in the city's history.
The mayor of Johannesburg, Kabelo Gwamanda, has moved to the scene of the incident, accompanied by other authorities, according to the Mayor's account on X (formerly Twitter). The Mayor's Office has confirmed that "search and rescue efforts are still underway."
For his part, the spokesman of the Emergency Management Service, Robert Mulaudzi, has specified in a brief message on X, that "the latest update of the balance is 73 dead and 52 injured," clarifying that search and rescue operations are still underway.
������In Johannesburg, South Africa - 73 people, including 13 children, were killed in a fire in an apartment building.
More than 50 people are injured. An abandoned five-story building in the city center was occupied by squatters. Over a hundred people lived there. pic.twitter.com/PUxHs37ON0
Subsequently, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described what happened as "a great tragedy" and expressed his "deep condolences" to the families of the deceased and the injured.
Officials say it is unclear what sparked the blaze at the city centre five-storey building, which had been abandoned but was being occupied by homeless people.
City of Johannesburg Transport MMC Kenny Kunene pointed the finger at NGOs for the death of 73 people at a five-storey building that was reportedly partitioned with cardboards in Marshalltown.
Kunene said he was attacked, and NGOs threatened to take him to court.
“The people staying in these buildings told me that the hijacking syndicates pay these NGOs a retainer so that when government reacts and wants to evict then they must take government to court on an urgent basis to prevent the eviction on the basis that there is no alternative accommodation or whatever reason,” he said.
Ramaphosa stressed during an appearance at an official event broadcast on his social network account X that he hopes that the investigations "will allow residents and authorities to avoid a repetition of such a tragedy."
Many buildings in South Africa's inner city of Johannesburg are considered unfit to live in. Usually, these building have been abandoned by their owners or the city authorities, so some families occupy them in exchange of paying rent to criminal gangs who run them.