Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition


The Jewish Report Editorial

This can never happen again

Avatar photo



It’s difficult to imagine the depth of devastation and horror of last week’s inner-city fire in Johannesburg, in which 77 people including women and children were burnt to death and scores seriously injured.

The fear, desperation, and anguish of the people who got caught in the five-storey building during the fire is too awful even to contemplate.

Witnesses have described people being forced to jump out of windows because they had no other way out. These are images reminiscent of 9/11, when terrorists forced planes to fly into the World Trade Center in New York.

In this case, this nightmare was due to the total degradation of a building owned by the city. And the people who lived in this building, that wasn’t built or zoned for residents, were effectively refugees from their birth countries. Those who survived mostly lost every meagre possession they had, and in the chaos of the fire, mothers lost their children as they tried to escape.

I’m not sure if we’ve truly understood the implications of this.

Suffice to say, as Lael Bethlehem made clear in the story on page 6, more people died because of this fire than during the Sharpeville massacre, which was a huge turning point for this country. Sixty-nine people died in Sharpeville.

She went on to say that more people died in this disaster than at Marikana, when 34 people were killed. “The tragedy of Marikana did give rise to changes in the mining industry, so we can only hope last week’s fire will be the turning point in the way we experience the management of the city, or will it be another in a series of disasters?” she asked.

We can only hope that this is the catalyst for change and becomes the moment that woke the government and country up to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again.

One of the biggest problems in this crisis is the level of xenophobia or Afrophobia in South Africa, and the fact that most of the people who lived in this building were effectively refugees from other African countries. They are people who are hardly able to eke out a living or put their children through our education system. They are literally people who fall through the cracks here.

I understand there are many in South Africa and even in our own community who believe they should be sent back to their country of origin no matter what’s happening there. This is so dreadfully sad, as I have said before, as we Jews understand what it is to be a displaced people, a people who nobody particularly wants in their country.

I’m relieved and pleased that our South African Jewish Board of Deputies is out there, trying to help the survivors of this tragedy. Nobody asked the Board to do so, but it rushed out to do the right thing. Thank you, Wendy Kahn and your team, for representing us in doing what’s right. I’m really proud to be associated with you in this endeavour. Kol hakavod!

The devastation of this tragedy is three-fold. First, it’s about the horrific loss, trauma, and horror of 77 souls, 77 human beings, including women and children who lost their lives and those who survived with nothing. Then, the fact that South Africans aren’t as horrified as they should be because so many of the victims are from other African countries and aren’t South African citizens.

But finally, it’s about the fact that this country is being left to rot by our government, both on a national and local level. The upkeep of essential services is neglected, and has been for so many years. After all this time of being abandoned, it’s extraordinarily difficult to pick up the pieces and fix them.

For so long, so many in the ruling party, which fought tooth and nail for democracy and for the human rights of the masses, have lined their pockets rather than doing what they promised.

This is the sadness that’s South Africa right now.

Having said that, I’m inspired by the religious leaders who have now gathered to make it their business to fight corruption and turn this country around. It’s for this reason we chose to put this story on our front page. We need to know that, while we are living with so much that is negative including Stage 6 loadshedding, there are leaders pushing for change.

Last week, we brought you the story about Rabbi Gideon Pogrund’s business leadership initiative, and now we have another inspiring one coming from religious leaders.

So, though the government isn’t doing what it needs to do to fix our country, business and religious leaders are taking up the cudgels to make sure there’s change and improvement. I know that it’s early days and the initiatives are only starting. Some may say it’s just talk, but I’m an idealist and I believe in the good in people.

Having said that, we’ll be following what’s done to help change this country from being a corruption capital, in which people don’t seem to count in our national leaders’ eyes, to a country that can once again be an example to the world.

Remember when the world looked to us as the rainbow nation under the leadership of Nelson Mandela? Those were heady days, but this isn’t the time to lose faith.

As Mandela said: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

He also said – and I say this to all of us and our leaders – “It’s in your hands, to make a better world for all who live in it.”

I pray that this tragedy is the catalyst for change. I pray that we’ll never have to deal with the loss of life on this scale ever again. G-d bless South Africa!

Shabbat Shalom!

Peta Krost


Continue Reading
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Choni Davidowitz

    Sep 11, 2023 at 7:12 pm

    “Those who Bless Israel will be Blessed, those who curse Israel will be cu rsed” (Gen.12;3) Your last three words are “God Bless South Africa” With all due respect Ms. Editor, I don’t think He will heed your request.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *