The site of the Bank of Lisbon is due for demolition of Sunday 24th November 2019. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA).
The Bank of Lisbon building is gone. As of 9am on Sunday morning, the once iconic building was imploded in a controlled demolition.

Our memories of the days when the Bank of Lisbon building was a landmark of everyday experience of Johannesburg, albeit during apartheid, are all that will be left. Those were the times when Johannesburg central was safe, orderly and almost spotlessly clean.

The building housed the Bank of Lisbon, which is actually the Mercantile Bank of Lisbon. It was founded in South Africa as a commercial bank in 1965, though its licence was only granted in 1989.

On Wednesday, Gauteng MEC for Infrastructure and Property Development Tasneem Motara announced the now done and yet to be dusted controlled demolition of the Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Street (the old Sauer Street) situated Bank of Lisbon building, which recently housed three Gauteng departments: co-operative government and traditional affairs, human settlements and health. The building was among eight other such non- compliant buildings owned by the Gauteng Provincial Government.

The building, which forms part of the inner-city landmarks, said Motara, “is today a sad reminder of an incident that we have since learnt from as the Gauteng Provincial Government”.

Video: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA).

In September last year, three firefighters died while fighting a conflagration which had engulfed some of the top storeys of the 31-year-old building, which then MEC for Infrastructure Development Jacob Mamabolo had to admit did not meet Labour Department health and safety standards, with a 21% compliance score, reports indicate.

Severe damage to the slabs of the burnt floors had been caused by the fire and the building was declared by engineers to be uninhabitable.

Motara said once the Gauteng Provincial Government took a decision to demolish the building, Jet Demolition was selected to carry out Sunday’s demolition.

Video: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA).

“There were slight delays with the date of demolition because of the stakeholders, for instance, Independent Newspapers (adjacent building) delayed us for some time because they had raised issues of additional insurance, because their building is also quite old, in the event that there is (sic) other damages not covered, that Jet Demolition together with the department would insure them. So, we do have that,” Motara said.

“We have budgeted R114 million. We’ve to date spent R90m. We will know the total cost at the end of the closure of the project, March 2020,” said Motara.

Motara said after Sunday’s demolition, “The space will be cleared and will be used for rebuilding of another building for government accommodation, in line with the Kopanong Precinct Project, which includes the refurbishment of 18 buildings. Bank of Lisbon was one of the buildings that were going to be refurbished. We’ve just had to change the scope of work to include 17 refurbishments and one rebuild (Bank of Lisbon).”

Motara said Jet Demolition would take responsibility if anything went wrong with the demolition.

In a measure to protect inner-city residents from any injuries during the demolition, an exclusion zone was implemented. The exclusion zone affected 1828 people who reside in 10 buildings within and around the exclusion zone: Diagonal, Pritchard, Simmonds and Commissioner streets, which included buildings, rooftops, parking lots, streets and parks.

On Saturday, a day before the demolition, Diagonal and Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Ntemi Piliso, Commissioner and Pixley Seme, and Commissioner and Fraser roads were closed. The SAPS enforced the exclusion zone perimeter.

At 6.30 am on Sunday, residents who live within the boundary of the exclusion zone were due to be evacuated and accommodated at the Bank City precinct until about 9.30am.

A source with specialised knowledge of such demolitions as that of the Bank of Lisbon building said the demolition would “actually take eight seconds” because the more than 2000 charges fitted to the building “take about two-and-a-half seconds” to detonate and the building would thereafter implode.

The demolition specialist said geotextile fabric sheets would cover all buildings adjacent to the Bank of Lisbon to prevent any dispersion effect of dust waves which might carry demolition debris from breaking windows and cause damage to neighbouring structures.

Motara said the responsibility of Jet Demolition would end once the site was cleared at the end of March 2020.

Sunday Independent