Loved ones who perished in the Joburg building fire

We spoke to surviving relatives at the Hofland Community Centre shelter

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(From left to right) Smart John, Lukia Paudala and Cicilia Lapken were among the 77 people who died in the 80 Albert Street building fire. Photos supplied.

Over 100 survivors of the 80 Albert Street inferno in downtown Johannesburg are sheltering at the Hofland Community Centre until alternative accommodation can be arranged.

Gift of the Givers has been assisting the families with food.

So far 77 people perished from the fire. We spoke to some of the survivors about family members they lost.

Smart John was 27

“I have never felt so lost in my life. My brother was a good man,” says Ali John, who lost his younger brother, Smart John, in the fire.

He last saw Smart on the morning of 30 August, the day before the fire.

Ali managed to escape from his room on the first floor, but he could not find his brother, who lived on the ground floor. Two of their friends and an aunt also perished in the fire.

The John brothers grew up in Mangochi, Malawi. Life in the village was hard, and in 2021, Smart decided to look for work in South Africa.

He found work in a shop and could send money to their family.

Inspired by his brother, Ali followed Smart in April this year.

Together they opened a fruit and vegetable shop inside 80 Albert Street.

The brothers had big plans to uplift the family back home, and they took turns sending remittances. Ali also acquired land to build a home for his wife and three children in their village in Malawi.

“Everything was going well … Now he is gone,” says John.

Smart John was buried at a state-paid-for funeral on Monday.

Lukia Paudala and Cicila Lapken

Lukia Paudala, 34, had only been in South Africa for two weeks before the fire ended her life. She is survived by her cousin, Bester Kazembe. They grew up together in Machinga, Malawi.

Paudala sold magwinya (vetkoek) in the building and sent money home. The family is trying to raise the funds to repatriate her remains. She is survived by her three children.

Paudala lived on a different floor in the building, and Kazembe could not find her on the night of the fire.

“My cousin and l came to South Africa to seek a better life so that we can look after our families back home. But we were yet to find work and things were not easy,” says Kazembe.

During the short time they were in the building, he says it felt like home because many occupants spoke the same language as him.

Paudala’s close friend, Cicilia Lapken, also died in the fire. The two were inseparable, says Kazembe.

Lapken is survived by her four children in Malawi.

Mammi Kaunda was 31

Mammi Kaunda, 31, had only been in South Africa for a month before the fire.

Her brother, Kenneth, had been in Johannesburg since June and was also struggling to find work.

They were both supported by their other brother, who works at Dragon City.

Kaunda says things are bad in Malawi, which is why they came to South Africa. However, he says, “My heart is in pain because I keep thinking that my sister would have been safer if she had remained at home in Malawi.”

Mammi is survived by her children in Machinga.

Survivors of the 80 Albert Street inferno are sheltering at the Hofland Community Centre. Photo: Kimberly Mutandiro.

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