By Nabeelah Shaikh
Multiple funerals were held this week for the Muslim victims of the Johannesburg CBD apartment fire which tragically claimed the lives of 77 people.
In a show of support, Muslim organisations from around Gauteng rallied and assisted the deceased’s families with the burials so that the victims could have a dignified funeral. All the Muslim deceased victims so far have been from the Malawian community.
On Thursday last week, the fire gutted a five-story building in Marshalltown in the Johannesburg city centre. While 77 people were killed, including 12 children, more than 50 others were also injured. On Sunday, seven Muslim victims were buried in a mass funeral at the Olifantsvlei Cemetery. Four of those victims were from the same family
The seven who were laid to rest were migrants who lived in the building and had arrived in Johannesburg in search of work.
“Most of the bodies of the total number of victims haven’t been identified yet. Administratively, it’s been quite a difficult task. We had the seven Muslim burials that took place on Sunday and that was a very difficult event to witness,” said City of Jo’burg Councillor, Imraan Moosa.
Moosa commended the Muslim organisations that came together over the last week to support the victims. He said it was heartwarming to witness how they rallied together to ensure they could help the victims and that the funerals could be held in a dignified manner.
“I must give thanks to those Muslim organisations from Pretoria to Benoni and all over Jo’burg, as well as all the burial organisations like the Saaberie Chishty Burial Society for their support.
They have really assisted a lot during this time. The community stood together and ultimately, it’s a humanitarian right for us to ensure that there is dignity when we are burying our Muslim brothers and sisters,” said Moosa.
Moosa said it was devastating to attend the mass funeral on Sunday to witness the extent of the tragedy and how it has impacted the affected families.
“Most of the victims have been our Malawian Muslim brothers. We had quite a large number of people attending the funerals and representatives from the local and the Malawian community. It was good to see the communities come out to attend the funerals and show their care and support for the Malawian community. It was a heart-wrenching moment to witness so many burials in one day as well,” said Moosa.
Irfaan Mangera from Rise Mzansi was one of the volunteers who also assisted with the burials on Sunday.
“It’s been really intense. The first Muslim funeral was on Saturday. Then the seven that happened on Sunday was a full-day experience. There was a big delay at the mortuary. They weren’t releasing bodies. Some of the most significant delays were because of the extent to which the victims were burnt and documentation issues. And some of their bodies cannot be identified. This will take much longer for some bodies to get released,” said Mangera.
Mangera said Sunday’s Janazah was sombre.
“There were a significant number of people that attended. You could feel the emotion from the community on what a disaster this was. And if you’re taking a human rights approach you need to recognise the dignity of these victims and realise that this disaster was not caused by them but by the failure of governance to uphold the constitution,” said Mangera.
Moulana Anees Kara, a volunteer at the Fordsburg Youth Movement has also been assisting with the burials.
“On Thursday last week, we were activated to be on standby for the victims. The process and the legalities have been a long mission. We had to go to the mortuary and there were a lot of complications with the paperwork. We managed to get only one Janazah out on Saturday.
On Sunday, we did the other seven Janazahs. Then Monday and Tuesday, some of the other Janazahs were held,” said Kara.
He said there could be more Muslim Janazahs coming up, but the DNA process will make it difficult for bodies to be released timeously.
“There could be more Muslim Janazahs. All of the remaining bodies could be Muslim or not, but we are waiting for more bodies to be identified and that’s going to be a lengthy process. We don’t know how many Muslim bodies are left there,” said Kara. He said it’s been a really difficult time to see the families coming forward to identify their loved ones.
“You feel emotional with them. Doing so many Janazahs from one family wasn’t easy on the heart, but Allah gave us the strength to do it so we could assist our brothers and sisters from the Malawian community,” said Kara.