A cover-up? - Gauteng govt accused of hiding Bank of Lisbon blaze report

Sunday marked three years since three Joburg firefighters died while trying to douse the flames which started on the 23rd floor and yet their families are none the wiser as to what went wrong and who should take the blame.

What’s left of the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg in September 2021. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - In the absence of concrete reports into the deadly blaze at the Bank of Lisbon building, claims of a cover-up by government are filling the vacuum with several invested role players telling Eyewitness News the evidence of a whitewash is overwhelming.

Sunday marked three years since three Joburg firefighters died while trying to douse the flames that started on the 23rd floor and yet their families are none the wiser as to what went wrong and who should take the blame.

Sphiwe Moropane, Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathutshelo Muedi died while trying to extinguish the fire that broke out at the now demolished building in 2018.

Four investigations were launched, but 36 months later and the public and families are yet to hear what those outcomes are.

It's there where Moropana fell to his death three years ago, but now this demolished Bank of Lisbon building is just a deep hole in the ground filling up with litter and dirty rainwater.

Eyewitness News is in possession of photos taken by firefighters on the day of the blaze clearly showing how water pipes inside the Bank of Lisbon building were stripped.

WATCH: 'The lives of those firefighters don’t matter to govt'– Bank of Lisbon fire, three years on

Private company, Fire Ops' Wynand Engelbrecht said these water pipes were compulsory for high rising buildings to be able to get water to the top of the structure to douse the flames.

“The water was so badly compromised in that building, the pipes that were cut out from the basement to the first and second floor, that the firefighters couldn’t get water on the higher floors.”

When this building was demolished in 2019, the Gauteng government said it was for safety reasons. But not everyone is buying this story.

The Democratic Alliance believes senior officials have been implicated in wrongdoing and there were attempts to make sure it never comes out.

The union representing firefighters Demawusa's Absalom Ndlangamandla believes evidence has been concealed on purpose.

“They are destroying the evidence because how can you destroy a building if you are not finished with your investigation.”

Added to the concerns of evidence being covered-up, Eyewitness News has been prevented by the Johannesburg Emergency Services from interviewing the surviving firefighters without being given reason why.

GALLERY: A look back at the Bank of Lisbon fire - three years on


Moropane's father, Robert Moropane, is questioning the lack of political will to finalise the investigation three years after the disaster.

In September 2019, former Gauteng Infrastructure MEC Jacob Mamabolo said outside the Bank of Lisbon building: “Let’s wait for the report; the report is definitely going to make recommendations and it will indicate who must be held accountable for that.”

It’s been more than three years and the families who lost loved ones in the disaster are still being asked to wait patiently for the outcomes of these reports and not to jump to conclusions.

Speaking to Eyewitness News from the scene where his son plunged to his death, Robert said he was tired of politicians making empty promises.

“You phone this one and they tell you they will come back to you, and they never do. It’s three years down the line, I don’t know how many phone calls I made to the EMS, the mayors of this city.”

Engelbrecht said without a comprehensive analysis of what went wrong at the Bank of Lisbon fire, other old buildings in the city could pose the very same threat.

“There are at least 50 of these buildings that are in such a poor state that should a similar incident happen tomorrow, we will definitely have the same negative result.”

Joburg Mayor Jolidee Matongo said there were many old buildings in the city either owned by government or privately which need to be regularly inspected.

Meanwhile Gauteng Premier David Makhura has promised to release all four reports into the Bank of Lisbon fire later this month.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.