Marshalltown fire inquiry building not compliant with by-laws

The judicial commission of inquiry into circumstances surrounding the deaths of 77 people at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg has been postponed indefinitely.

The postponement was announced after it was revealed that the venue of the inquiry was not compliant with the by-laws of the City of Johannesburg.

On Monday, the chairperson of the commission, retired Constitutional Court judge Sisi Khampepe, got the proceedings underway and quickly stated that they have been postponed.

Inquiry postponed indefinitely

“I regret to advise that today’s proceedings have been postponed because the commission has been served with a notice by the city’s emergency management services [EMS] that the venue is not compliant with the by-laws of the city,” said Khampepe.

She said the commission is currently looking at securing a new venue for the proceedings.

“As soon as this has been secured, we will advise members of the public and the media accordingly.

“These proceedings are postponed to a date and venue to be announced in due course.” 

The inquiry, which is tasked with finding the causes of the fire on August 31, was taking place at Sunnyside Office Park, Wits University clinical research offices in Parktown, Johannesburg.

Assisting Khampepe in the proceedings is advocate Thulani Makhubela and Vuyelwa Mathida Mabena. Advocate Ishmael Semenya (SC) is the evidence leader of the inquiry.

Notice served by EMS

Thembekile Graham, from the office of the secretariat of the commission, said the commission received the notice from the EMS on Friday, the second day of the hearings. 

Graham said the city issued the notice because the venue of the commission is too small and cannot accommodate more than 25 people sited.

“On Thursday, we limited the sitting to 25 people. On Friday, we had more than 25 people because of members of the media and the public who wanted to attend the inquiry,” said Graham.

“The venue only has one door. It [venue] does not have enough doors to accommodate people in case of an emergency.”

EMS spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi confirmed that the city has served the commission with a notice.

“The notice of non-compliance was issued to the commission on Friday. The venue does not have enough exit routes in case of an emergency and the capacity can only accommodate 25 people and not more than that,” said Mulaudzi.

“By-laws are there to prescribe to safety to life, prosperity, and environment and most importantly to mitigate or prevent disaster from happening, be it fires, explosion or any dangerous conditions or situations.”

Hearing split into two parts

Last week, it heard testimony from EMS employees and police officers on how the residents of the Usindiso Building died after jumping out of windows to escape from the raging fire.

The inquiry, which was established by Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi, is split into two parts, determining the causes of the fire and who should be held accountable, and the prevalence of hijacked buildings in the Johannesburg CBD.

Seventy-seven people including 12 children were killed and 88 other people were injured in one of the deadliest fires in South African history.

Gauteng health department spokesperson Motalatale Modiba said only 37 of the 77 bodies had been identified and released to their families for burial over a month after the tragedy.

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