Joburg building fire: 'The MEC must not lie,' Denosa charges

2018-09-06 15:23
A fire at the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg. (Canny Maphanga, News24)

A fire at the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg. (Canny Maphanga, News24)

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The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) has accused Gauteng MEC of Infrastructure Development Jacob Mamabolo of misleading the public about the Johannesburg building which caught fire on Wednesday, leading to the death of three firefighters.

It claims that the MEC had no intention of relocating officials from the building even though he knew that it was not fit for habitation.

"The MEC must not lie. He received a report a week ago clearly indicating that the building was not fit for habitation and his delegation told us on the 3rd of August that they would not relocate the officials," Denosa provincial chairperson Simphiwe Gada told News24 on Thursday.

The Bank of Lisbon building houses the departments of health, human settlements and cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

At a briefing outside the building on Wednesday afternoon, Mamabolo said his department had commissioned an assessment of various buildings around the city in 2017 for occupational health and safety. A report, which was presented on August 27, 2018, revealed that the building was only 21% compliant with occupational health and safety standards, against the norm of 85%.

Minutes of a Gauteng health department special multilateral meeting dated August 2, 2018, which were seen by News24, indicated that the department told unions that the relocation would no longer continue because the building had been renovated and refurbished.

Gada claims that the delegation from the MEC's department and the Gauteng health department repeated this statement at a meeting on August 31.

The fire 'should not have happened'

"The same day the fire took place, the Department of Health was supposed to provide the unions with feedback as to why they would not relocate staff. We are yet to receive this report," Gada said.

Head of the Gauteng health department, Mkhululi Lukhele, told News24 that he had no knowledge of the August 2 minutes.

He would also not confirm whether a delegation held meetings with the unions on August 2 and August 31.

Lukhele would not comment on whether his department was going to outline the department's decision not to relocate from the building on Wednesday.

At a media briefing on Thursday, Mamabolo disputed the union's claims, saying that it was incorrect that he said there would not be any relocation and adding that it "makes no sense because they had already started the process of relocations on government buildings".

One firefighter fell to his death as he battled the fire at the building, after he ran out of oxygen and went to the ledge to try get air on Wednesday.

Two others who were trapped inside for a large portion of the rescue mission are said to have also run out of oxygen and this led to their deaths. 

eNCA reported on the dire state of the building last week, saying that employees had been complaining for years about their work environment.

Denosa's view is that the health department should be held accountable for the fire "that should not have happened".

"Had the department taken the notice issued by the Department of Labour that the building was not safe for habitation seriously, this loss of life would not have taken place. They decided to keep the staff there," Gada said.

At Wednesday's briefing, Mamabolo declined to comment on allegations that it was the third fire that took place at the building this year.

However, Denosa maintained that its shop stewards confirmed that it was indeed the case.

"According to our shop stewards, the second fire took place in January/February this year and another one took place in 2017. The only difference is that it was not a big fire like this one," Gada said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance has submitted a motion to the Gauteng legislature, calling for Mamabolo's resignation than that of Health MEC Gwen Ramakgopa.

"The building did not have functioning fire extinguishers and the water pressure and emergency exit routes were inadequate," DA Gauteng MPL Jack Bloom said.

The motion, dated September 6, calls on the Gauteng premier to fire them within five days.

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Read more on:    denosa  |  johannesburg  |  fires

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