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Soweto building collapse ‘avoidable’

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INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

The ruins of the old Orlando Power Station. Photo: Chris Collingridge

Johannesburg - The death of at least four people following the collapse of the old Orlando power station in Soweto on Wednesday should never have occurred.

Six others were injured, leading to rescue attempts over several days following the collapse.

The power station should by now have been a thriving R1 billion business centre, but instead it’s a disastrous, dangerous site scheduled for demolition.

On Monday, Joburg and provincial authorities were to meet to discuss the building’s demolition, while it seems the developers still want to push ahead with their plans for the area.

The power station collapsed last week after ongoing looting of the structural steel by scrap metal scavengers. The site is owned by the City of Joburg.

“The power station is a heritage building, and is protected by the Provincial Heritage Resources Agency (PHRA). Any intended demolition to heritage stock can only be done in consultation with the agency,” Kululwa Muthwa, the chief operating officer of the Joburg Property Company (JPC), explained.

“The remaining structure is at a potential risk of further collapse. However, a structural investigation will be conducted to confirm this.”

Muthwa said a meeting was scheduled for Monday between the JPC and the agency, the developer and a structural engineer to assess the structural integrity of the remaining structure.

“The developer has secured the site to minimise the risk of illegal entry to the site,” Muthwa said.

“The demolition can only proceed on obtaining permission from PHRA, and will be done immediately thereafter,” he added.

The Orlando power station was supposed to have been part of a huge development, supported by the council, but so far it hasn’t got going.

The developer is the Soweto Power Station Mall (SPSM), which would not comment.

But, on Sunday, there were hints that the developers still want the project to go ahead.

A source close to the developers said the plans for phase one were with the council for planning approval, and there were “immediate plans” to build a community centre.

The developers hoped to build “something special”, he said, and hoped to tackle the crucial problem of job creation – in the construction and running of the centre.

The developers reportedly hope to rebuild after last week’s tragedy.

Muthwa said the power station was decommissioned in 1998 and that the JPC had been trying for a decade to facilitate its redevelopment as part of a bigger development project.

The Star’s archives record the JPC’s announcement in March 2005 of the Orlando Ekhaya project, which was supposed to include “shopping centres, business nodes, conferencing and recreational facilities, entertainment, specialist shops, hotels and waterfront activities”.

It was also supposed to include the power station, the Orlando cooling towers, the Orlando Dam and the Vista conservation area. An estimated investment of about R400 million had been planned.

A year later, the development was estimated at about R1bn.

At the time, it was reported that the power station part would be developed by a consortium.

In February 2006, the then Joburg mayor, Amos Masondo, symbolically turned the first sod in the new development, which was mentioned in his State of the City address a few weeks later and again the following year.

By 2008, there were hints of problems, with the JPC admitting the development was behind schedule because of difficulty getting funding approved.

By 2010, only R322m of the required R1bn had been raised, with the global economic crunch blamed.

Muthwa said that as part of the development plan, the building was handed over to the SPSM in January 2012.

“To stem the rampant theft of the structural steel, the developer has had the site fenced off four times, but the fencing has consistently been stolen, including electrified fencing. The developer has made all reasonable efforts to secure the site.”

Muthwa said about 25 arrests had been made over the years.

louise.flanagan@inl.co.za

The Star


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