South Africa fire updates: At least 73 people have been killed in a building fire in Johannesburg

Linsey Shotel

Kabelo Gwamanda, right, is sworn in as mayor of Johannesburg in…Joao Silva/The New York Times

Johannesburg was once a city of dreamers, a city of gold that lured prospectors from far and wide in the hope of getting rich. But recently, the city has become more like a political issue, it is a big city where the souls of many residents are as dark as street lights.

In May, after days of brinkmanship and arm-twisting, the city appointed its sixth mayor in 22 months: Cabello Guamanda, a first-term city councilor from a political party that received just 1% of the vote in the previous municipal election.

His rise was the culmination of the latest chapter in a political continuum in which mayoral terms are measured in weeks and months, and where councilors’ inability to cling to a leader has led to municipal chaos. The people of Johannesburg were the biggest losers.

While political leaders bicker over power and groups, angry residents often suffer days without electricity and water, dodging potholed roads and wary of rickety buildings, such as the one that caught fire Thursday.

On Thursday morning, Mr. Guamanda was at the scene of the fire with members of the city’s coalition government. He blamed years of negligence for the circumstances that led to the fire, though he vowed his department would take responsibility.

He said: “This government is only six months old, and we are already facing historic challenges.”

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