The death of three firefighters at the Lisbon Building in Johannesburg was quite tragic. The Gauteng government, which housed its workers there, has sought to portray the incident as a mere sad accident. And they could be right of course, as no one knows what caused the fire at this stage.
But there are a number of undisputed facts surrounding the incident that are a cause for concern. First is the acknowledgment by infrastructure MEC Jacob Mamabolo that the Gauteng government knew that the building did not meet safety requirements and was therefore a safety hazard. Mamabolo said the building only had 21% compliance with safety standards, when there should be a minimum of 85% compliance.
He insisted that he received a report to this effect last week and was still following processes before the workers could be relocated. But trade unions say from as long ago as 2012 they have been speaking to the government about this issue, with little result. This is a damning indictment on a government that often claims it is a “caring” government. It demonstrates very little care when government sends civil servants, like sheep to slaughter, to a building that they know is unsafe for them. It might be a bit of a stretch to say – like the Economic Freedom Fighters claimed – that government was intent on murdering the workers. But if does feel like gross negligence on the part of the leadership of provincial government.
Government cannot ask for praise because it had commissioned a study into the conditions of that building and other government buildings.
The lesson is that it is absolutely pointless if they have these reports but do not act on them. Yes, accidents do happen, even in new buildings, but in this case it seems like the Gauteng government went to sleep, with disastrous consequences.