Johannesburg - Gauteng member of the executive council (MEC) for Infrastructure Development, Jacob Mamabolo, said on Thursday that the provincial government will be moving with speed to relocate its employees who were working at the doomed Bank of Lisbon building in the Joburg CBD, and find them alternative accommodation within "two to three months".
The top floor of the 23-storey government building, which houses the department of health, human settlements and cooperative governance, caught fire on Wednesday morning. The fire was still raging throughout Thursday, 24 hours later, and had spread to other parts of the building as reinforcements from Ekurhuleni and Tshwane were called in to assist with the blaze.
Two firefighters died while trying to battle the blaze while one fell to his death. At least 13 officials from the provincial department of health were hospitalised and treated for smoke inhalation, but have since been discharged.
Joburg member of mayoral committee Funzela Ngobeni has since named the deceased firefighters as Simphiwe Moropane, 28, Mduduzi Ndlovu, 40, and Kathutshelo Muedi, 37.
Mamabolo said that the provincial government had already in March and in July commenced with the procurement processes and was in talks with potential landlords to find alternative building for the department of human settlement and cooperative governance, and was waiting on the health department to submit its request for a new building.
"We will now start a process today to speed-up the relocation process in consultation with the Treasury. Even though we are looking at speeding up the process we will also make sure that the safety of our staff is not compromised. It is for that reason that we will make sure that the buildings that they will be relocated to comply with health and safety standards. We will not rush workers into non-complaint buildings," Mamabolo said.
"When the issues were tabled, we commissioned a detailed comprehensive process which has now given us an accurate picture because reactive, piecemeal, isolated maintenance does not work. The current business process of waiting for departments to submit a request first before work is done is reactive. We have already noted that it does not work and has to be changed and replaced with a pro-active approach."
Mamabolo had admitted on Wednesday that the building, which is among eight owned by government in Joburg, was only 21 percent compliant against the norm of 85 percent, and had contravened the Occupational Health and Safety Act. He said that government will soon make an urgent announcement about relocating workers from other buildings that are also non-compliant.
The buildings, including Bank of Lisbon, are Corner House housing Mamabolo's department, Imbumba House 75 Fox Street housing provincial treasury, Thusanong Building on Commissioner Street housing social development, the Old Reserve Bank, the Absa Building, and two buildings at Sage centre.
Mamabolo said that 1 115 workers had been safely evacuated from the burning building after it caught fire on Wednesday morning, but saying despite that, government still had to strengthen its evacuation procedures in order to save lives. At this point, the cause of the fire is still unknown.
"The real cause of the fire still has to be determined. Fire can catch any building, including a building that is fully serviced and compliant, including a new state-of-the-art building," Mamabolo said.
"The subsequent tragic loss of life of the firefighters is a matter that we believe there should be a separate investigation on that so that the families can find closure. If 1 115 people could be safely evacuated from the building, we need a clear report on therefore what was the causes of the death of the three workers. We would not want to speculate."
Meanwhile, a group of officials from the [provincial department of education gathered outside Mamabolo's office demanding the head of department to address them about their safety concerns at the building in which they work. They said that they have been warning the provincial government about the maintenance issues in their building, but nothing was being done.
African News Agency (ANA)