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

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)

Gauteng Infrastructure and Development MEC Jacob Mamabolo says he is willing to take the blame for the building fire in Johannesburg on Wednesday, in which three firefighters died, if an investigation finds him guilty.

"The law must take its course. If an investigation points out that I must take the fall, then the premier must decide," Mamabolo said.

The MEC was speaking at a briefing on Thursday at Lutsinga House.

Both the National Education and Health Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) claimed they had warned government authorities prior to Wednesday's fire, that the building was a "disaster waiting to happen". They claimed that they raised concerns as far back as 2014.

READ: Fatal fire: Shop stewards who raised concerns about safety at Joburg building were dismissed - Nehawu

A report indicated that the Bank of Lisbon building, which houses the departments of health, human settlements and cooperative governance and traditional affairs, was not up to standard in terms of health and safety regulations. 

The building in question was revealed as 21% compliant in the report, which was handed to the MEC on August 27.

But Mamabolo believes that the media and the public can't speculate that that was the case of the fire.

"You must remember, a fire can be caused even in the best of buildings. We cannot speculate on the cause of the fire. We must wait on a report," Mamabolo said.

"It would be sad to create an impression that this fire could have been avoided. If it was arson, we wouldn't have known. If a person plugged a device into the wall and caused a fire we would not have known," Mamabolo added.

READ: Fatal Joburg fire: Building was only 21% compliant, says MEC Mamabolo

He also said that the process of waiting for departments to report safety concerns to the infrastructure and development department was "no longer working".

"We want to be the only authority that can determine whether a building must be relocated or not and where they say there is no budget, we will have to work with Treasury," Mamabolo said.

The departments housed in the building were expected to meet Denosa on Thursday to discuss the union's concerns further. 

Besides finding another building for the affected departments, the infrastructure and development department is in the process of relocating workers from an additional eight buildings in the city that were said to be non-compliant. 

Meanwhile, firefighters were still on the scene on Thursday afternoon in a bid to contain the fire, that reignited in the early hours of the morning. 

Emergency services spokesperson Nana Radebe said the fire had been contained, but there was still smoke on the 15th and 16th floors.

“We are removing materials so that the fire doesn’t reignite,” she told News24. 

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba is also expected to visit the families of the deceased. 

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