Joburg's buildings of death: Public servants refuse to enter unsafe offices
Gauteng / 7 September 2018, 07:32am / Tebogo Monama and Sibongile Mashaba
Johannesburg - More Joburg CBD buildings have been flagged as falling short of safety standards following the deadly fire in the Lisbon Bank building, housing at least three government departments.
As news of three firemen dying in the inferno at the building spread, government employees working in these buildings of shame began to refuse to enter the unsafe offices on Thursday.
Other companies, such as Independent Media, which houses The Star, chose to evacuate their workers as the inferno at the neighbouring building worsened.
Gauteng Department of Education workers protested and refused to work in their dilapidated building on Fox Street, which they described as “an accident waiting to happen”.
The building, which houses school inspectors and curriculum experts, is without working toilets and drinkable water. It also has collapsing floorboards.
The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) on Thursday took its members out of the building, which is two streets away from the Bank of Lisbon building and a stone’s throw from the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters.
Employees said the building was unkempt, with ablution facilities constantly breaking down, unserviced air conditioners and old furniture.
Besides the tragic death of the three courageous firefighters, eight others were admitted to hospital for smoke inhalation and burn injuries.
At least 13 Health, Human Settlements and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs employees were injured.
Sadtu members marched to the provincial Infrastructure Development Department, demanding immediate action to avert further loss of lives.
Gauteng DA spokesperson on infrastructure development and planning, Alan Fuchs, said on Wednesday that there were at least nine other buildings in the Joburg CBD owned or managed by the provincial legislature and the Public Works Department that were safety hazards.
He named some of the derelict buildings as the New Heritage Library Hotel, the SA Reserve Bank building, Clegg House, Montrose House and SA Permanent Bank building, among others.
Mamabolo said the process to relocate the departments of Human Settlements and of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) had started earlier this year. He said he was still studying the report but couldn’t move workers before then.
The MEC said his department started looking for an alternative building for Cogta employees from March 7. Tenders for the Human Settlement building were to be completed today.
He said they would start looking for alternative buildings from next week.
“We will not rush people to come back to work but we also won’t have workers staying home for too long,” Mamabolo said.
Although the Bank of Lisbon building dismally failed safety tests long before disaster struck, Mamabolo stressed the fire was an accident and could have happened even if the building was new.
Asked whether he would take personal responsibility for the disaster, he said there would be an investigation into the cause of the fire.
“If it is found that anyone, including me, was negligent, the law must take its course. If it is found I did something wrong, it will be up to Premier David Makhura to take action,” said Mamabolo.
Makhura said that last year he had commissioned a conditional assessment of all government buildings and facilities in the province, including clinics.
He said the Infrastructure and Development Department would be doing an assessment annually.
“I started last year because I was concerned. I’ve heard workers raising concerns from time to time about the conditions of the buildings, including my own office.
“We have as a result decommissioned several buildings as a result of this conditional assessment. Some are going to be demolished.
"They can’t be renovated because they are not in a state that they can accommodate people,” Makhura said.
“There are buildings based on that report that need to be refurbished. The same building that is in question (the Bank of Lisbon), we were in the process of getting accommodation to move the workers.”
He said that in light of the fire, and the seven buildings deemed unsafe, the government would fast-track procurement processes.