TSHWANE - Correctional Services officers celebrated, ululating and clapping, as Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga and a contingent of senior Tshwane Emergency Services ordered the immediate evacuation of department of correctional services' head office, Poyntons Building for "serious breaches" of fire and emergency evacuation regulations.
"Following what we picked last week in Johannesburg [where three firefighters died, struggling to douse an inferno in a government building], we felt that it is important for us to start our own inspections of buildings, especially those that we have previously warned," Msimanga told African News Agency at the high-rise building in Pretoria's CBD.
"When we walked in here, we have seen things that are shocking. Right by the gate there, there is supposed to be a [water] booster [but] that is not even existing. Downstairs, where you have a tank that is supposed to be pushing water into the building [in the event of a fire], the connectors are not there. This means should there be a fire tomorrow, this building will go."
Inside one of the offices, where thousands of files are stored, officers told Msimanga that the lights were faulty.
"Where they are storing files, you have lights that are sparking. That's where you have a whole lot of papers that are in the building. The escape routes are locked shut, which means people have to go through smoke or through fire because the escape doors are shut. These are some of the things we have communicated to the company [running the building] here in 2016," said Msimanga.
He said 1,600 people use the building, which also accommodates members of the South African National Defence Force.
"You can imagine, if there is a fire here, what danger would people have to face here. We have a canteen here using gas that is not even registered. Should there be a fire here, this building will be gone in a matter of minutes because of the amount of gas. We are talking about over 100 kilogrammes of gas lying over there," said Msimanga.
"That is something that cannot be tolerated. Unfortunately this building cannot be occupied. We are going to shut it down. We are going to allow the officials to come in and tell us the steps that need to be taken, and they will be given time to rectify what needs to be rectified. As it is, I cannot risk the lives of the people working in this building and other buildings in proximity."
Msimanga said he "cannot afford a disaster to happen on my watch".
As Msimanga walked away, several officers in correctional services mobbed him again, thanking him for the intervention.
"Dankie Msimanga. This is a deathtrap. Well done Mr Mayor," shouted one official who declined to be named.
Trade union, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, was equally elated.
"There was a report issued by the City of Tshwane, way back, around 2016 which recommended that this building is not fit for human inhabitation. That report was ignored by [correctional services] management on the basis that the City of Tshwane doesn't have jurisdiction to adjudicate over issues of safety of the building. They said that is a competency of the department of labour. They ignored that report," said Ntsako Khoza, a POPCRU shop steward based at Poyntons.
"Secondly, there was an internal report which was crafted by the [internal] occupational health and safety department, which said again this building is not safe for human inhabitation and the recommendation was that there must be an evacuation of people here. That was also ignored."
Khoza said there is no certification for the electricity connections, water pipe connections and the elevators in the building.
"Right now we are having a situation whereby the construction workers and staff members have to use the same lifts [elevators]. The department of labour was here, and said that must be stopped. We have a lot of injuries that have occurred. Our members are getting injured a lot in this building," he said.