Spotlight on another govt building after deadly Joburg blaze

The condition of yet another government building is under the spotlight in the wake of Wednesday's blaze at a Johannesburg building in which three firefighters died.

There were reports of two arson attempts at the Civitas building in Pretoria this week, which houses the national Department of Health.

The most recent was on the 14th floor on Thursday.

READ: Fatal Johannesburg building fire reignites

On the same day, the Public Servants' Association (PSA) of SA lodged an urgent application in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to force the department to address its concerns.

PSA members have been protesting against the condition of the building and claimed that its members risked their lives daily by working there.

READ: A day of fire in Gauteng

Arson attempts

During a briefing on Friday, Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi questioned whether it was a coincidence that there were two arson attempts at the headquarters in Pretoria as well as an alleged attempt in Johannesburg.

He said the removal of the earth cable from the chiller plant and the damage to the boardroom on the 16th floor of the Civitas building had been reported to the police.

He could not confirm the latest compliance level of the building but said that the lowest was 21% in 2016.

"We are very suspicious that there might be connections. We might be wrong, we might be right, but investigations would reveal it," Nxesi said.

A firefighter fell to his death while battling the Johannesburg blaze on Wednesday at the Bank of Lisbon building and two firefighters lost their lives after they became trapped inside.

The building houses the Gauteng departments of health, human settlements and cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

All employees have been told to stay home until they are relocated.  

Thirteen employees and eight firefighters were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation. The fire was extinguished after two days.

'Death trap'

Two unions, the National Education and Workers' Union and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa both told News24 that they laid complaints about safety and health issues at the Johannesburg building as far back as 2014.

On Friday, Nxesi confirmed that the Civitas building was a state-of-the-art building which had been poorly maintained and that his department must take full responsibility for it.

Nxesi told the media that poor maintenance of the building resulted in the malfunctioning of the air conditioning, adding that this led to employees protesting against their working conditions.

He strongly rejected media reports that the building was a "death trap", since it has never been declared uninhabitable.

Nxesi said they were dealing with a "concerned campaign of criminal and potentially lethal sabotage".

Where contractors had made repairs to air-conditioning units, wires had been cut, he said.

Nxesi added that smoke detectors and security cameras had also been disabled.

He added that several locks had been broken and there was forced entry into the building and control rooms recently.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said they had asked the public works department to put a full-time engineer at the Civitas building.

With regard to the recent attempted arson attacks, Motsoaledi said he was "very worried and extremely scared".

"We [have] a thousand people there and if somebody doesn't mind bringing down a thousand people for whatever motive, [it's] worrying," he said.

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