Makhura under the spotlight again - this time for deadly Joburg blaze

Gauteng Premier David Makhura. (Mduduzi Ndzingi, Gallo Images, file)
Gauteng Premier David Makhura. (Mduduzi Ndzingi, Gallo Images, file)

Gauteng Premier David Makhura has been placed at the centre of yet another government tragedy – this time relating to the deadly blaze at a Johannesburg government building on Wednesday in which three firefighters died.

This, following political reaction to the blaze at the Bank of Lisbon building, which houses the Gauteng departments of health, human settlements and cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

It has since been revealed that the building was only 21% compliant with occupational health and safety standards, as opposed to 85%, which was the norm.

Now political parties have turned their attention to Makhura and his MEC – just months after the conclusion of arbitration hearings relating to the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

Makhura survived a motion of no confidence in the Gauteng legislature as well as calls for him to step down and be arrested following the tragedy, in which 144 psychiatric patients died after the Gauteng health department moved them from Life Esidimeni homes to ill-equipped NGOs and state facilities in 2016.

READ: 200 new Esidimeni compensation claims lodged worth R236m, says DA

On Friday the EFF visited the site of the blaze and announced its intention to launch a murder case against the premier as well as the provincial departments of health, human settlements and infrastructural development.

Its newly-elected provincial chairperson Mandisa Mashego told journalists that the party would also open a case against Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, Human Settlements MEC Uhuru Moiloa and Infrastructure Development MEC Jacob Mamabolo.

"Firefighters lost their lives directly because of the recklessness, incompetence and corruption of the ANC government that is simply obsessed with tenders and looting our money instead of making sure basic things are done," said Mashego.

She claimed water pipes in the building had no water and that firefighters who had gone to the top of the building had no means to fight the blaze.

Mashego also said the party was pursuing Makhura because he was in charge and "he must always take responsibility".

MECs must step down or be fired

On Thursday, DA MPLs Jack Bloom and Alan Fuchs announced that they had submitted an urgent motion for Mamabolo and Ramokgopa to step down, claiming that they ignored warnings which could have prevented the recent tragedy.

The DA wants Makhura to fire the two within five days if they do not voluntarily leave their positions.

"Mamabolo has admitted that the building, which is owned by his department, was only 21% compliant and contravened the Occupational Health and Safety Act," Bloom and Fuchs said in a joint statement.

At the same time, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in Sedibeng is calling for Mamabolo's removal.

READ: Mamabolo prepared to 'take the fall' for Joburg fire if a probe finds him guilty

In a statement by its spokesperson Thabiso Hlongwane, the league called on the MEC, who is also the SA Communist Party (SACP) Gauteng's secretary, to follow the example of former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu who stepped down in the wake of the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

"By his own admission, MEC Mamabolo does not meet the standards of a decent public office bearer," said Hlongwane.

Hlongwane also called on Makhura to take "swift action" against those found to be responsible for the tragedy.

Hlongwane also called on Mamabolo to "do the honourable thing". The spokesperson did not mention some of the existing tension between the SACP and the so-called "generational-mix" grouping within the ANC and the tripartite alliance, which developed ahead of this year's provincial conference.

"As a communist who prides himself in integrity, he should know better," Hlongwane said.

SACP defends Mamabolo

However, Mamabolo's political party, the SACP has defended him and called for cool heads.

"Now is not the time for politicking," provincial chairperson Joe Mpisi told News24.

He hit out at the DA for attempting to bring forward a motion against Mamabolo, saying that the three firefighters had not even been laid to rest when the DA attempted to capitalise on the tragedy.

"Whilst we do not wish to ride the DA speculation bandwagon and play cheap politics on the full set of facts and circumstances that followed the death of the three firefighters, we believe that only an independent investigation can play a key role to help the affected families find closure on the cause of the tragic loss," said Mpisi.

He also questioned the DA's decision to lay all the blame on provincial government leaders while disregarding the fact that the Johannesburg building was situated in a city run by a DA government and its mayor, Herman Mashaba.

The SACP provincial chair dismissed the ANCYL statement saying he did not believe it came from the structure but rather from someone who had issues with the communist party because it wanted the specialised investigative unit to look into the economic development department.

"This boy is hellbent to criticise and deal with the character of provincial leaders who differ with his understanding or political perspectives," Mpisi said.

He added that he would leave it to the Young Communist League to deal with the ANCYL statement because it was its counterpart.

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