Fire risk not checked

2016-12-12 10:17
Exclusive pictures inside the 154-year-old Pietermaritzburg Old Prison after it was gutted by a blaze on Thursday.

Exclusive pictures inside the 154-year-old Pietermaritzburg Old Prison after it was gutted by a blaze on Thursday. (Amil Umraw)

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No fire risk assessments had been conducted at the historic Pietermaritzburg Old Prison cell block that was left gutted after a blaze on Thursday.

After a meeting with various stakeholders yesterday, CEO of Project Gateway, the Reverend Jabu Mnculwane, admitted to Weekend Witness that the organisation had not conducted fire risk assessments at the cell block before they began using the building as a storage facility.

Desks, chairs, home furniture, books and gas cylinders were among some of the objects stockpiled in the Block C building.

Some stakeholders are now concerned about the condition of one precious object stored in the basement cell that once held Mahatma Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba.

The “Time Capsule”, which was introduced in 2010 as part of a campaign to mark 150 years since indentured labourers arrived in South Africa, retained envelopes from interested individuals who deposited certified copies of original documents, family histories and letters.

The capsule was sealed away in the cell and was only set to be opened by the next generation on November 16, 2060, marking the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in the country.

It is believed firemen spotted the metal capsule under the rubble, but it has not yet been deemed safe to extract it.

Mnculwane said Project Gateway previously planned to revamp the cell block into a four-star hotel, but the idea was deemed “farfetched”. The organisation then put plans in place to convert the cells into an art gallery.

He denied using the building to hoard “junk”, and instead said the cell block was used by destitute community members who lived at the NGO’s shelters to stash their belongings and by other partnering NGOs to house their equipment.

Project Gateway’s equipment for their various programmes was also housed in the cell block.

Trevor Watson, from the local Kairos Prison Ministry branch, said their organisation lost about R60 000 worth of goods. Watson appealed to the public for assistance.

It was also revealed that the building is not insured.

Discussing a way forward, the panel of stakeholders agreed that before anything is done, an assessment of the damage needs to be conducted.

“The dream of revamping the building was not just a Project Gateway dream, but also a community dream. We do not have a clue where to start but we need a unified response to what happened. We would like to see the building preserved,” Mnculwane said.

Amafa/Heritage KZN representative Ros Devereaux said she hopes enough funding can be collected to repair the building.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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