Bank of Lisbon building. Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)

The Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) has denied allegations that senior officials had not taken steps to deal with complaints regarding safety issues at the Bank of Lisbon building.

Spokesperson Lesemang Matuka said head of department Mkhululi Lukhele appointed a senior manager to be responsible for Occupational Health and Safety matters at the head office, and that he had approved the establishment of an Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

Addressing issues currently faced by employees, Matuka said: “There is no exposure for any GDoH employee to any construction work (at 45 Commissioner Street). Most of the equipment used in the Bank of Lisbon was damaged in the fire.”

He said office equipment from 11 Diagonal Street and the Old Reserve Bank was in working condition and that it had been taken to the building on Commissioner Street to ensure staff functionality, following evacuations from the two buildings.

Matuka said the department was renting equipment until an acquisition process had been completed.

Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said the Public Prosecutor would have to deal with matters raised in the complaint, as investigations into the cause of the fire were ongoing.

Masebe said the Department of Health was currently renting office space: “It means an inconvenience not only to the staff, but to the public.

"Heads of departments were instructed to ensure that there was minimal disruption to service and that everything should be done to ensure staff were able to continue working." 

“We see this as a case of complete negligence and disregard for people’s lives. Our members cautioned about the unsafe building but were dismissed but after we appealed, they were reinstated. Even after they returned to work, they would raise issues about the unsafe working conditions,” said Nehawu Gauteng deputy secretary Gracia Rikhotso.

The employee claims that after the fire, about 80 workers were accommodated at a building in Randburg where the department paid R23000 for one employee per month.

Firefighters pay their respect to the three colleagues who died on duty when the Gauteng Department of Housing and Health building caught fire in September 2018. File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Mkhwebane’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, confirmed that they had received the complaint.

“As is standard procedure, the matter has been subjected to an assessment process, which seeks to establish jurisdiction and merit. That process is pending. The Public Protector will be in a position to decide on the way forward after this process,” Segalwe said.

The employee said there was no message sent out regarding a fire but there were “reports of a possible fire” at about 10am. “A (sic) mayhem ensued and almost all the employees were in panic mode. There were screams and general state of confusion Staff members were screaming for their lives,” she said, adding that firefighters arrived at the scene an hour later.

Some employees from the three departments had to stay at home due to working space being unavailable for several weeks.

The employee said that while some staff members were now reporting for duty at 45 Commissioner Street, which was still under construction, there was no announcement made officially.

“There are no working tools, there are no phone lines and there is no internet connection There is a rumour that the cause of the fire is arson. (The) 23rd floor staff members started the fire to conceal their shady dealings,” reads the complaint.

The Democratic Nurses Organisation of SA’s provincial leader, Simphiwe Gada, said the fire started on the legal department on the 23rd floor.