Commission of inquiry into deadly Marshalltown fire resumes today

The hearings of a commission of inquiry into circumstances surrounding the deaths of 77 people at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg resume on Wednesday.

Thembekile Graham from the office of the secretary of the commission said the hearings will get under way at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown at 10am.

Almost a month ago, advocate Thulani Makhubela was recused as a commissioner by the chairperson of the commission, retired former Constitutional Court judge Sisi Khampepe.

The other commissioner is Vuyelwa Mathida Mabena.

Khampepe, Mabena and Makhubela were appointed by Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi as commissioners of the commission in September 2023.

Lesufi’s spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the premier has not yet decided whether to appoint a new commissioner to replace Makhubela.

No word from Gauteng premier

“The premier is still applying his mind and has not taken a decision yet,” said Pamla.

Makhubela was recused after an application was brought the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) in December.

The application was supported by former residents of the Usindiso Building, who are the first respondents in matter.

Seri and the former residents argued that Makhubela should recuse himself based on his social media posts that they deem xenophobic.

The former residents of the building, which was gutted by the fire on August 31, consist of South Africans and foreigners.

While delivering judgment, Khampepe said Makhubela will not be “impartial” in analysing evidence submitted to the commission.

Makhubela barred from hearings

“It is noteworthy that commissioner Makhubela has for the past six years on social media expressed a firm view conveying enmity and antipathy towards foreign nationals in general, their undesirability in the city [of Joburg] and the country,” ruled Khampepe.

“He also evinces Operation Dudula, since the latter espouses xenophobic rhetoric. It is indeed so that commissioner Makhubela holds a firm view that foreign nationals are responsible for social ills besetting the country, including rampant crime and unemployment.

“There is therefore a real apprehension that commissioner Makhubela will be unable to be impartial to issues where they pertain to foreign nationals due to his publicly expressed views about Operation Dudula and its xenophobic cause.

“On this score, I am satisfied that commissioner Makhubela will not be able to bring an impartial mind to bear on the work of the commission.

“I am satisfied that a case has been made out for the recusal of commissioner Makhubela. In the premises, I rule that commissioner Makhubela is recused as a commissioner of the commission.”

Children perish in fire

The inquiry seeks to determine the cause of the fire and the prevalence of hijacked buildings in the Johannesburg CBD.

It is expected to make a ruling and recommendations on who should shoulder the blame for the deaths, injuries and homelessness of those who survived the fire.

Seventy-seven people including 12 children were killed in the fire while 88 other people were injured.

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