Bank of Lisbon fire probe 3 years later: still no answers

Four reports into the tragedy that killed three firefighters in the iconic building have been done, but none have been released to the public.

FILE: Firefighters stand in front of the Bank of Lisbon building where 3 of their colleagues died while trying to extinguish a fire. A memorial service was held for the firefighters on 12 September 2018. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Sunday will mark three years since three Joburg firefighters died in a blaze at the Bank of Lisbon building, and none of the reports into the tragedy have been made public.

Three of those reports still need to be completed, while the fourth, commissioned by the City of Joburg, has been finalised but has not yet been shared with the public.

On 5 September 2018, firefighters Simphiwe Moropane, Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathutshelo Muedi died as they tried to douse the flames of a blaze that started on the 23rd floor of the building. The structure, which housed several government officials from the Gauteng Health Department, was since demolished due to structural damage caused by the fire. But there was still no outcome on the investigations into the deaths of the firefighters.

The building was an iconic skyscraper in the Johannesburg city centre for decades.

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And, while Joburg Mayor Jolidee Matongo said that the city had put several measures in place to prevent similar tragedies in the city centre, firefighters that Eyewitness News spoke to warned that their dangerous working conditions had still not improved.

"All the senior officers have been provided with two-way radios so that when they attend to a scene they will be able to communicate. All the equipment has been procured for that so that as they attend to the scenes, the equipment is there and it is adequate," Matongo said.

But the Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa’s Joburg chairperson Dlanga Mandla said this was not true. He claimed firefighters still did not have enough equipment and resources to do their job.

"He's talking rubbish. Up until today, we have nothing. Nothing has been improved."

Mayor Matongo this week admitted that the four reports with insight into what actually caused the fire in the building should have been concluded and made public a long time ago.

“We will implore the premier to ensure that the report that is done … we'll ask the premier to expedite that process.”

The police, the city, the Gauteng premier and the Labour Department have all been investigating the fire for 36 months now.

But Matongo told Eyewitness News that the city had already shared its report with the fire chief and the affected families, who have asked that the findings be kept confidential. He added that they had to wait for the other three reports to be concluded before they could be made public.

The Democratic Alliance (DA)’s Jack Bloom said this week that Premier David Makhura responded to a written question about the fire and gave an assurance that all four reports would be released by the end of the month.

"I also think that it implicates very senior people. They don't want this to come out, so the premier must stick to his promise to make everything public at the end of September. If he doesn't, I'm going to be raising it again and again."

The mayor said that they would be visiting the families of the firefighters over the weekend when they marked exactly three years since they lost their loved ones.

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