Johannesburg, a city known for its diversity and dynamism, has recently been shaken by a heart-wrenching tragedy. At least 77 lives have been lost, with dozens injured in a devastating fire that engulfed a five-story hijacked building in the city centre.
Our deepest condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims. There have been unfortunate attempts to attribute the crisis to foreigners, including the LGBTQI+ refugee community.
It is essential to dispel these myths and take a closer look at the complex and multifaceted housing crisis in the city.
This incident starkly highlights the direct need for shelter and safety for vulnerable communities, particularly for the LGBTQI+ community, including queer refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers in South Africa.
The Urgency of Safe Shelters
In the wake of the tragic Johannesburg fire, it is clear that we must act swiftly to prevent such horrors from happening again.
One concerning narrative that has emerged is the tendency to place blame on specific groups, particularly foreigners, for the housing crisis. Such a narrative oversimplifies the issue and unfairly stigmatises vulnerable communities.
The LGBTQI+ community, in particular, require immediate access to shelters designed with their unique needs in mind such as:
- Safety: Protection from violence, discrimination, and exploitation, ensuring that individuals can be their authentic selves without fear.
- Inclusivity: A warm and welcoming environment that embraces all individuals, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or background.
- Support: Comprehensive support, including mental health services, legal assistance, and resources for self-sufficiency, to empower residents to rebuild their lives.
A Call to Action
It’s important to recognise that many LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers fled their home countries due to persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead of finding aid in South Africa, they instead often face both xenophobia and queerphobia.
They seek safety and acceptance, not to be blamed for housing issues and scapegoated for every negative aspect of life in South Africa.
Instead, let us come together to address the systemic challenges and work towards inclusive solutions that ensure safe and affordable housing for all residents, regardless of their background or identity. It’s through unity and compassion that we can truly tackle this crisis and build a more equitable city for everyone.
This heart-breaking incident compels us to take action:
- Stakeholders Involvement: Local and international institutions should prioritise the housing needs of the vulnerable community including the LGBTQI+ community and allocate sufficient resources for shelters and support services.
- Community Collaboration: NGOs and community organisations must unite to establish and maintain shelters, sharing knowledge and resources.
- Public Awareness: It is essential to educate the public about the housing crisis in Johannesburg, dispel myths arising from scapegoating such tragic incidents on illegal migrants and refugees, and promote understanding and empathy within our communities.
The housing crisis in Johannesburg is a crisis of humanity, and the recent tragedy at Alberts and Delvers streets serves as a poignant reminder of the urgency to act.
We should transform our grief into collective determination to provide safe and inclusive shelters for the most vulnerable, the LGBTQI+ minority community, and especially queer refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers. Together, we can ensure that everyone has a secure place to call home, free from the spectre of devastating tragedies.
Henry Wackam is the Founder and Director of the Rainbow Refuge Africa.