The five-storey building in the city centre has been described as “hijacked”, meaning it is used by squatters
The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained at the time of filing this report.
Emergency services told the BBC that the fire gutted the building at about 01:30 (00:30 BST) on Thursday.
Authorities say firefighters evacuated the building’s occupants on arrival, and the search and recovery of bodies is continuing
Reports suggest the occupants were mostly African migrants
Among those killed were seven children, including a one-year-old baby, South Africa’s Times Live news site quotes Johannesburg’s Emergency Management Services (EMS) spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi as saying.
He added 52 people were being treated for injuries.
“Firefighter crews are damping down. EMS will conduct preliminary investigations to determine what caused the fire after firefighting operations are done,” Mulaudzi said.
Meanwhile, the survivors of the fire who are now rendered homeless will be housed in another building that is also owned by the city of Johannesburg, a government official has said.
“About 300 people (141 households) are displaced, including the 49 in hospital and will be housed in another building owned by the City of Johannesburg,” Lebogang Maile said on X (formerly known as Twitter).
Maile also said an intergovernmental team would provide survivors and victims’ families with psychological and social services, support in arranging funerals for victims, and help with other necessities.
It has been described as one of the worst fire incidents in Johannesburg in recent history – and there are fears the number of fatalities will continue to rise as rescue workers make their way into the remaining floors of the five-storey building.
It’s an old building that was declared unsafe for use – but had been taken over by property gangs operating in the city centre who rent out rooms to scores of people per room.
Such buildings are often without running water and pose a fire hazard because of the numerous illegal electricity connections needed to provide power to tenants.
Describing the incident, Johannesburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi told local media: “I’ve never seen anything like this in my 22 years or service in this city.”
Officials said each floor resembled an informal settlement… rescue workers are combing through partitions resembling shacks, searching for survivors – and more fatalities.
Some of those who escaped have camped outside the building waiting for news of their relatives, others are waiting to see what of their belongings can be salvaged.