'I lost a hero': dad of firefighter who died in Bank of Lisbon blaze
The father of Siphiwe Maropane, a firefighter who died during the Bank of Lisbon inferno in the centre of Johannesburg in September 2018, bears the burden of seeing the location where his son died a tragic death almost every day.
Maropane was the first of three firefighters who died that day, after falling from the 23rd floor.
"My taxi to work passes the place where he died. I don’t choose to think about him but the scene reminds me of him automatically. I lost a hero, a peacemaker who loved his family so much," said Robert Maropane.
Maropane spoke to TimesLIVE at the Johannesburg Emergency Services (EMS) bravery awards ceremony, where his son - along with Khathutshelo Muedi and Mduduzi Ndlovu, two other firefighters who died in the blaze - were honoured for their bravery and commitment to saving lives.
"The event for me was long overdue, it’s been four months," he said.
The mood was sombre during the ceremony. Firefighters who battled the blaze were decorated with Medals of Last Bell and Medals of Valour by acting fire chief Arthur Mqwa, MMC for public safety Michael Sun, and executive mayor Herman Mashaba.
"We are here not only to remember the three lives that were lost but also to honour those who risked their lives to try to save those of their friends, families, peers and members of the public," said Mashaba.
Muedi's wife expressed similar sentiments as Maropane. "He deserves the honour; he had dedicated his life to helping others. He did it without complaining, every day for 12 years," said Fhumulani Muedi.
Muedi recalled how she sometimes forgot that her partner was no more. "He was my best friend, my everything actually, so yes I think about him every day," she said. The couple's two daughters, aged two and five, were left as the memory of her soulmate.
Gauteng premier David Makhura said at the time that officials knew the building did not meet safety standards.
It was reported that the building was only 20% compliant instead of the minimum of more than 80%.
Firefighters have threatened to stop responding to fires in buildings which do not meet compliance standards, saying their concerns about working in dangerous conditions had fallen on deaf ears.
Mashaba confirmed that the investigation into the allegations was under way and a report with recommendations would be released by the city.
"We need to appreciate that among us are people who are willing to sacrifice much of themselves to defend and protect their fellow human beings – even though it takes them away from their wives, husbands, children and parents for many hours at a time," Mashaba said.
The family of Mduduzi Ndlovu could not attend the ceremony due to unforeseen circumstances.