Not a single fire extinguisher at Nkandla

(Khaya Ngwenya, City Press)
(Khaya Ngwenya, City Press)

Johannesburg - Officials at President Jacob Zuma’s private Nkandla residence did not appear to be very concerned about fire safety – no one had bothered to install a single fire extinguisher in any building on the estate.

With the exception of building a so-called fire pool, there was an almost alarming disregard for any kind of fire safety at Zuma’s home, which consists of a number of thatch buildings.

This was revealed in a damning report after a fire-protection inspection test conducted by fire officials from the City of uMhlathuze at “Number 1’s Home Stead”.

The report was attached to the controversial one tabled by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko in Parliament this past week, which concluded that Zuma did not have to pay back any money for what Public Protector Thuli Madonsela termed non-security upgrades that the state paid for at Nkandla, including the R3.9m fire pool.

The report also raises serious questions about the usefulness of the swimming pool in fighting a fire.

The fire-inspection report, compiled in February, reveals that:

- There was not a single fire extinguisher in any building in Nkandla;

- Only two out of 10 fire-hose reels on the property were connected to a water supply;

- The two hoses that did have water “are being misused”;

- There were only two fire hydrants on the property; and

- There are no fire equipment signs posted anywhere.

The report also suggests that the first time the swimming pool’s firefighting capacity was properly tested was in February, well after the pool had made headlines.

Nhleko’s report states that a suction pump with a 1 500-litre-a-minute capacity was “permanently attached to the pool”, but this did not appear to be the case when the testing was done and a video filmed. His report also recommends that “the swimming pool, an open water source, [be] connected to the suction pump and linked to water-pressure monitors to be made available on site at the private residence of the president”.

The video, titled Fire Pool: Demonstration, and which opened with an orchestral music soundtrack, sparked national hilarity when it was played at Nhleko’s press conference on Thursday.

But the fire department’s report makes it clear that the portable pump that can be seen in the contentious video demonstrating the fire pool’s capacity belonged to them.

Andrew Vumba, manager of the municipality’s Fire and Rescue Services, on Friday confirmed to City Press that it was the department’s pump that was used during the testing and that it can be seen on the video.

His report in February also recommended that two portable pumps be used, one positioned near the swimming pool and the other closer to the fire.

A question, however, remains about how the pool’s water would have been able to be used to fight any fire that may have broken out before February.

In Madonsela’s report on Nkandla, she found that Minenhle Makhanya, the architect who worked on the president’s home, explained during a site visit that the “fire extinguisher equipment on the site was connected to the swimming pool so that its water could be used by the force of gravity in the event of a fire”.

According to Madonsela’s report, Makhanya could not explain why a water reservoir similar to the one installed for the household would not have sufficed for the purpose of firefighting.

Madonsela’s report also showed that the plan for a swimming pool was initially placed on hold because Zuma had not “accommodated for” the pool to be for his own account. The swimming pool was eventually paid for by the state.

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