It’s been over a year since she lost her husband, but watching the Bank of Lisbon building being imploded last Sunday reopened wounds for Ury Moropana, the wife of late firefighter Simphiwe Moropana.
Simphiwe died when he slipped and fell from the 23rd floor of the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg in September last year.
This week, Ury, 27, broke down as she watched television coverage of the 31-storey building being demolished. “I felt like I was watching a movie. It was a painful thing to watch.
“What was confusing was the crowd, who were there rejoicing. This is where my husband and the father of my two children took his last breath,” said an emotional Ury in a telephonic interview.
The fuming Ury accused the city’s emergency medical services (EMS) of demolishing the building to destroy evidence.
As a result of this opinion, Ury was not present when the demolition took place.
She said she turned down the EMS’s invitation because, to this day, the family was “still seeking answers” from it to explain how her husband slipped and fell to his death.
Last week Simphiwe’s father, Robert, also shared his frustration with Eyewitness News a few days before the demolition. He told the station that the structure would be demolished without any answers or closure for the family.
Ury alleged that, a year after the incident, they had not received any counselling, even though it had been promised. She also questioned the delay in the emergency medical services’ risk insurance payout.
“During the memorial service last year we were promised heaven and earth, but to this day we are still waiting,” she said.
Simphiwe was not the only one who died on the day. Two other firefighters, Khathutshelo Muedi (37) and Mduduzi Ndlovu (40), also lost their lives.
It was alleged that they both died from lack of oxygen after they became trapped in the building.
But what frustrates Ury is the long wait for a forensic report after they requested it from EMS in March. Instead, she claimed that EMS presented the preliminary report two months ago. It didn’t have full details.
Ury alleged the report fingered the EMS.
“Procedures were not being followed when they sent their employees to the scene. The report does point out the incident deficiencies such as that there was only an acting platoon commander, no senior officer, no radio and communication, no hazard area, no water supply to the building. They also failed to perform the standard practice of checking water from the first to the third floor,” she alleged.
Ury believes that the EMS intentionally demolished the building before the families of the deceased received the forensic report.
“They destroyed the evidence and they have succeeded. If the EMS decides to give us the forensic now, it will be too late – the building is gone. Even if we have questions on the report it wouldn’t help, because we can’t go back to the scene to verify some of the things in the report. We have no choice but to take it on face value. Is there something that they are hiding from us?” she asked.
“Unfortunately, at this stage it’s hard to hold anyone accountable for my husband’s death since I don’t have a forensic report with me. But the question remains whether it was an accident or negligence.”
EMS spokesperson Nana Radebe said Johannesburg EMS was not responsible for conducting forensic reports, but that an investigation report on what occurred during the fire incident had been finalised.
“The final investigation report was presented to the families by the acting EMS chief. The families were informed that the investigation report would be made available to them once approval had been obtained from legal and political principals,” she said.
Radebe explained that the building belonged to the Gauteng provincial government and the decision to demolish it was not aimed at concealing evidence, but for health and safety reasons as it was no longer safe.
“This matter can be addressed with the office of the MEC for the Department of Infrastructure Development, Tasneem Motara.
“They were responsible for appointing JET Demolition on behalf of Gauteng Province. Letters informing families of the deceased about the demolition were sent a few weeks before the actual date of the demolition exercise.
“So Ury had an opportunity to raise her concerns with Gauteng Province,” Radebe said.
She added that the City of Joburg had provided counselling services through the chaplaincy and social workers from the City’s employee assistance programme from September 5 last year until end January 2019.
“The chaplain has ensured that both the wives and the mother of the deceased have received counselling from time to time.
“The City of Joburg has been in contact with the deceased’s wife about the finalisation of the risk insurance payout and subsequent to this she has received a lump sum from the Joburg Pension Fund,” she said.