PICS: A look back at Bank of Lisbon tragedy ahead of demolition

By Karen Sandison Time of article published Nov 19, 2019

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Johannesburg - On September 5, 2018, smoke engulfed the Johannesburg CBD when the multi-storey Bank of Lisbon building caught alight.

Parts of the city centre came to a near standstill as traffic was blocked off to vehicles along the Albertina Sisulu and Pixley ka Seme streets  as fire engine trucks, paramedics, police vans and other emergency vehicles circled the area where the deadly fire broke out. 

The fire raged on for almost three days, with the struggling city's fire department calling on Tshwane and Ekurhuleni metros for assistance to help put out the fire. 

The Bank of Lisbon fire claimed the lives of three firefighters: Simphiwe Moropane, Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathutshelo Muedi. 

On the anniversary of the fire in September this year, they were honoured by the local and provincial government.

Gauteng Health  MEC Bandile Masuku was part of a team from provincial government to unveil a movable plaque at the Bank of Lisbon building on September 5 this year. The plaque was unveiled as the government commemorated those who lost their lives while fighting the blaze. 

The plaque is expected to be moved to the department's new home.

But apart from the lives lost, thousands of official government documents were also destroyed as the building was housed by a number of Gauteng government departments, including Human Settlements, Health, Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. 

The health department's chief financial officer Kabelo Lehloenya told a portfolio committee meeting in the Gauteng legislature in September last year: “In terms of data lost on hard copies, we have suffered a massive blow. That I must concede to. Even in my office as the CFO, we had a lot of documents, HOD, we had a lot of hard copies there. We sign memos almost on a daily basis. That information indeed has been lost.

“I just want to state to the members that you only have the office of the head of legal that is stationed at BOL (Bank of Lisbon building that burnt down). Processing and directors and everybody else are all stationed at [the building on] diagonal Street. A lot of the files are still there but indeed we did lose quite a good number of files, and those files that have been lost at BOL are of critical cases because obviously the files that would be at the head of legal would be important files,” Lehloenya was quoted by The Sowetan as saying.

However, Human Settlement employees told The Star two months ago that they feared their new building on 11 Diagonal Street  was also not safe. They claimed the building did not meet the  basic occupational health and safety standards.

A report by the Department of Infrastructure Development found that there were serious structural defects to the building, The Star reported, quoting a 36-page internal report from the department.

The Star reported that issues highlighted in the report included exposed wiring, rotting walls, damaged and suspended ceiling boards and no ablution facilities for disabled employees.

Human Settlements MEC Lebohang Maile told The Star in September that employees from his department were set to move to their new permanent home on 17 Diagonal Street this month. The building was undergoing renovations at the time. 

According to The Star, Gauteng Cogta officials would be moved to the former Premier's offices on Simmonds Street. It was unclear where health officials would be moved to. 

And on Sunday, the building which was deemed too expensive to renovate after the deadly fire, will be raised to the ground by explosive devices which will likely see parts of the CBD engulfed in rubble after the explosion. 


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