Partial roof collapse at Potchefstroom court 'a wake-up call' - aggrieved workers

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A temporary court session outside the Potchefstroom Magistrate's Court.
A temporary court session outside the Potchefstroom Magistrate's Court.
Ntwaagae Seleka
  • Workers allege their complaints about the Potchefstroom Magistrate's Court building have not been taken seriously.
  • Parts of the roof collapsed recently, leaving workers and the public stranded.
  • The public works department claimed it was regularly maintaining the building.

People who work at the Potchefstroom Magistrate's Court say a partial collapse of the roof this week was due to a lack of maintenance, but the Department of Public Works says the building was inspected less than a year ago and a contractor has been on site.

Workers who spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity claimed the building was last inspected about a decade ago.

Parts of the roof collapsed on Monday afternoon, leaving workers and scores of people stranded.

On Wednesday, many people gathered outside the building, waiting for their cases to be called.

Awaiting-trialists could also not be brought to court.

Some members of the public, especially those outside the building, were seen gathering in groups as they were given their subsequent court appearances.

A temporary court session took place under a tree on the lawn outside.

Workers dressed in orange overalls were seen carrying rubble from the collapsed roof, emptying it into waste bins outside the main entrance.

The collapsed roof affected the cash hall, offices used by officials dealing with child maintenance and the civil court clerk.

READ | How Potchefstroom court's partial roof collapse has inconvenienced many people

"This situation could have been averted. The department ignored its responsibilities. I have been working here for many years and have never seen an inspection conducted here," one employee claimed.

"This building is old. It needs regular maintenance. What happened on Monday was a wake-up call. Something big is going to happen should the government continue ignoring their responsibilities."

Another worker claimed their lives and health were at risk.

"We don't know when the tragedy is going to happen. We are observing that this building is decaying, and the infrastructure is not maintained. One day, this entire building is going to collapse.

"I pray that should it happen; it must happen when there is no one inside. The building is becoming hazardous. We have been complaining to our senior who ignored us," she said.

Complaints

Staff complained about:

  • Having to share toilets with the public.
  • Ceiling boards are failing.
  • Water drips through the ceiling when it rains.
  • Shortage of water for drinking and flushing toilets.
  • Cracked walls.
  • Faulty electric lights.
  • Emergency doors are allegedly locked.
  • No backup for electricity in case of load shedding or power outages.
  • Lack of cameras throughout the entire building.

Public works spokesperson Thamsanqa Mchunu confirmed that there was no electricity backup and security cameras, saying this needed separate funding from the Department of Justice and Correctional Services.

Mchunu added the ceiling fell because of a roof leak "but there are no cracking walls. The emergency doors are not always locked.

"It is not true that workers and the public use the same toilets. There are separate toilets for the public and officials. There is no shortage of drinking and flushing water. In fact, there is even a water tank on the roof."

Mchunu said the building was last inspected on 25 November 2021.

He added on 27 February 2020, public works handed the site to the contractor to carry out maintenance on the entire building.

"Then Covid-19 lockdown regulations disrupted the project. When the contractor came back on site, the local business forum intimidated the workers, and that added to the delay.

"The building should be inspected once a year. The contractor has been on site since 1 August 2022, fixing these challenges, but the interruptions by the business forum are continuing, causing further delays. The police are aware of this problem. Three people have been arrested," Mchunu said.

He added public works had issued a report developed by the architect to the labour department.

The report declared it was safe to continue to work in the building, except in the area where part of the roof had collapsed. 

"It is worth noting that the collapsed part of the roof is not part of the building where the contractor was working," said Mchunu.


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