WATCH | ‘They would be alive if the building was compliant’ - Firefighters reveal details of fire

13 September 2018 - 09:07 By Naledi Shange

At a memorial held at Ellis Park arena on Wednesday‚ 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.

The Economic Freedom Fighters claimed they had reliably learnt that the deadly fire – which broke out last Wednesday‚ and claimed the lives of three men – was intentionally ignited.

Speaking at a memorial service of the firefighters who lost their lives in the blaze‚ EFF Gauteng chair Mandisa Mashego said they learnt that the trio “died from action that resulted from corruption”.

Mashego said: “There’s a potential link between people who are hiding corruption and the fire. It is clear now from information we have heard from confidantes and whistle-blowers that the fire was not an accidental fire. It was arson.”

She added that there was “definitely a murder case to be answered by government”.

SAPS’s Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said that an investigation was under way to determine the cause of the fire.

“The outcome of the forensic investigation will direct any further investigation‚” said Peters.

Three firefighters died when the building‚ which houses several government departments‚ caught alight. Two of them – Mduduzi Ndlovu‚ 40‚ and Khathutshelo Muedi‚ 37 – died from the flames and smoke inhalation‚ while a third‚ Simphiwe Moropana‚ 28‚ died after falling from the 23rd floor.

Mashego’s revelation was made as many of those who had come to the service had dispersed from the stadium. Others had turned their focus from the speeches and were chatting amongst themselves in the stands‚ drowning out Mashego’s voice.

There was hardly any reaction from the crowd following her announcement.

For several days following the blaze‚ forensic officers had combed through the building and its surrounding areas‚ trying to find the cause of the blaze. By Wednesday‚ their findings had not been made public.

Following the fire last week‚ Gauteng premier David Makhura said officials knew that the building did not meet compliance standards. It was reported that the building only had 21% compliance‚ when desired compliance levels are in excess of 80%.

It was‚ however‚ not the only problematic government building in the Johannesburg CBD.

On Monday‚ his office announced that it was moving government workers from eight other buildings that did not comply with safety standards.

But this didn’t matter to those who had lost their colleagues and loved ones the week before. On Wednesday firefighters expressed their anger and frustration at being deployed to these unsafe buildings.

Firefighters from the Fairview station said it was the last time that any of them would lose their lives in such a senseless manner.

Acting station commander Mike Matlawe said they would be demanding a list of all the buildings in the Johannesburg CBD that did not meet compliance standards.

“We are no longer going to respond to fires at these buildings. We are no longer going to listen to you. You can fire us. It is fine‚” he said to applause from firefighters.

Mourners at the memorial service had earlier been told about how the men had rushed into the building‚ only to find that the fire extinguishers were not working‚ and neither were the fire hoses.

One firefighter‚ Muzikayise Zwane‚ took to the podium to speak of how he had received a frantic call for help from one of his colleagues. The man said his hands had been burnt so badly that he could not carry his other injured colleague out of the building.

He recalled how he witnessed Moropana falling from the 23rd floor‚ saying the body was almost unrecognisable due to the impact of hitting the ground.

Zwelinzima Vavi‚ secretary of the SA Federation of Trade Unions‚ said they intended to sue the provincial government for the deaths of the firefighters. Government‚ he said‚ had sent the trio to their deaths.

“These deaths and injuries should have never happened‚” he said.