Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says it was shocking that gauteng Premier David Makhura had allowed government employees to continue working in the building despite knowing that it did not meet compliance standards
Image: KATHERINE MUICK-MERE

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) plans to take legal action against Gauteng Premier David Makhura over the deaths of three firefighters at the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg.

Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi accused Makhura of sending the firefighters to their deaths by failing to shut down the building despite knowing that it was only 21% complaint with safety regulations.

"We were told there was not a single functional fire extinguisher there‚" said Vavi‚ adding that all the fire hoses had also dried up.

He was speaking at the memorial service of the three firefighters who died while fighting the blaze. The memorial service was held at the Ellis Park Stadium on Wednesday.

Vavi said it was shocking that Makhura had allowed government employees to continue working in the building despite knowing that it did not meet compliance standards‚ adding that at times workers were forced to walk up to the 20th floor as the lifts did not always work.

"We have taken a decision. We are going after you. These are not chickens or animals. These are human beings‚ fathers and uncles to someone. We will not allow them to die in vain‚" said Vavi.

"We are going to sue you even though we know you won't return their lives‚" he added.

Vavi said scores of government workers who worked there had repeatedly complained about the building but their complaints had fallen on deaf ears.

"Shame on you‚" he said.

Makhura was not present at the memorial.

Among the dignitaries who were there was Mayor Herman Mashaba and Councilor Michael Sun.

The National Education‚ Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) called on members last week not to work in unsafe buildings. The union singled out eight buildings in the Johannesburg CBD: 30 Simmonds‚ 75 Fox‚ Perm Building‚ Thusanong Building‚ Corner House‚ Sage Building‚ ABSA building‚ and the Bank of Lisbon Building. It also flagged the Civitas building in Pretoria which houses the National Department of Health.

The union said on Wednesday that it was writing to Makhura‚ asking him to appoint a team to co-ordinate the relocation of government staff to temporary accommodation while safety issues were addressed in their buildings.

Nehawu said it would apply for a declaratory order to declare the Civitas Building unsafe and seek an interdict to stop government from applying the no-work-no-pay principle when workers refused to enter unsafe buildings.

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At a memorial held at Ellis Park arena on Wednesday, September 12 2018, firefighters revealed gruesome details of what led to the deaths of their colleagues on the fateful day they were sent to extinguish a fire at the government-owned Bank of Lisbon building in central Johannesburg.