Poorly maintained ventilation closes down SA AirForce Headquarters building

The building is extremely hot at 40 degrees, which causes its servers to overheat. Picture: defenceWeb website

The building is extremely hot at 40 degrees, which causes its servers to overheat. Picture: defenceWeb website

Published Feb 28, 2024


The South African Air Force (SAAF) has temporarily shut down its headquarters building in Pretoria, on Tuesday, due to the malfunctioning of its ventilation system, which has caused unsafe working conditions for employees.

According to defenceWeb, an online publication that publishes news on the African military, its military technology and security, SAAF HQ shut down, after an inspection by the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL). This was due to air quality and high temperatures in the building from February 19 until the 23rd.

The DEL, written in a SAAF report, deemed the headquarters to be in contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, and issued a Prohibition Notice to the Chief of the Air Force, prohibiting any areas where there are no means of natural ventilation and the mechanised ventilation system is not working.

The SAAF building woes are not recent but date back two years. City Press reported in January that the building gets extremely hot, with temperatures over 40 degrees on warm days. The heat affects the computer servers resulting in them overheating frequently.

This is due to the failure of the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The Chief of SAAF, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, earlier this month said SAAF was working to address the issue, with relevant stakeholders it relies on, in particular, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI).

SAAF employees were told to work from home between February 26 and March 11; they must join a WhatsApp group call every morning to report for work. Anyone needing to visit the building will have to wear a mask and sanitise regularly; and limit visit duration to a maximum of two hours, preferably in the morning.

Mbambo instructed the Air Force Command Council to follow the same principles used during Covid-19, to reduce possible risks to personnel caused by contaminated air and poor ventilation, without impeding operations.

The Chief Air Policy and Plans (CDAPP) will be relocating to Directorate Air Force Acquisition (DAFA) at Air Force Base Waterkloof, other Chief Directors will at the Africa Aerospace and Defence office at Waterkloof, and Air Force Command Council will be working at Waterkloof VIP Movements.

The South African National Defence Union (SANDU) in January, issued a complaint to Mbambo about the detrimental state at Air Force HQ, however, the issue was insolvency, hence, the union pursued the legal route for alternative solutions.

SANDU had conducted an investigation, with the Department of Labour- the department visited the premises on February 23, and issued a 7-day (seven day) notice for compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, unsatisfactory, this led to the shutdown of the building.

SANDU National Secretary Advocate Pikkie Greeff, remarked: “The shutdown of the South African AirForce Headquarters triggered by a critical failure of its ventilation systems, highlights the severe implications of insufficient funding and maintenance within the South African Defence Force (SANDF).

“The DPWI’s role in this predicament, points to a broader systemic issue and pattern of dereliction that requires urgent attention.“

He emphasised the importance of SAAF members to work in a safe and healthy environment.

The 30 year-old building, with five floors and 1 200 employees, one of six temperature control systems on the roof is working; two systems that control the temperature of the floors underground are working at 50% capacity, one is unserviceable. Repairs by DPWI will approximately cost R5 million, reported DefenceWeb.

The Star

Hope Mafu

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