Bank of Lisbon blaze: 4 years after 3 Joburg firefighters died, the families still wait for answers

Bank of Lisbon before the demolition.

Bank of Lisbon before the demolition. Azzarah Karrim

  • Four years later, there are still no findings into the cause of the fire that claimed the lives of three firefighters at the old Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg.
  • The building caught fire in September 2018. 
  • Last year, Gauteng’s premier said the findings would be made public but to date, nothing has been received. 

Nearly four years have passed since the fire that raged through the old Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg, killing three firefighters, but the findings of four investigations into the blaze have still not been released.

Last October, Gauteng Premier David Makhura pledged to release reports on the four investigations conducted by the police, the City of Johannesburg, the provincial government and the Department of Labour. But he has not done so.

On 5 September 2018, a building that housed the health, human settlements and cooperative governance departments was engulfed in flames. Allegations at the time were that the fire was caused by an electrical fault that started on the 23rd floor of the building.

Simphiwe Moropane, 28, Mduduzi Ndlovu, 40, and Khathutshelo Muedi, 37, died while battling the blaze. News24 reported at the time that Moropane died after falling from a ledge while trying to get some air. Ndlovu and Muedi were trapped in the building and died due to a lack of oxygen.

News24 spoke to Ndlovu’s father, Sbusiso Ndlovu.

“We still haven’t received a report explaining what happened that day, let alone received money. My son died in 2018 and four years later, no one has said anything.

How do I continue to live on as a parent, knowing that no details about the incident have been made public?” he asked.

He added:

I’m still in pain, and it hurts to hear the endless excuses for why the report hasn’t been released.

“For years, I’ve been answering phones and telling people how I’m feeling, giving them stories, but what has all these stories gotten me? Nothing,” he said.

The Muedi family expressed similar sentiments.

“We have not been given any report. This shows how our government makes promises they can’t deliver. I have no hope in them,” said Muedi’s father, Israel Muedi.

He added:

It’s sad to know that promises have been broken. It took me two years to find closure and I can say I have accepted things the way they are even though the sad part is that we will never know what really happened.

DA Gauteng Health MEC Jack Bloom said he was concerned about the delay and the shifting of the date of the reports’ release.

In his latest response to the legislature, Makhura said his office was coordinating with agencies to ensure that all investigations were complete.

He added that two reports had been received and two were still outstanding.

“The South African Police Service has indicated that their case was handed in at the Johannesburg Magisterial Court on the 25th of January 2022 and is still awaiting the decision of the magistrate of the Inquest Court. The Department of Labour has requested to submit the report in the month of July 2022,” he said,.

“As soon as all the reports are received, the Office of the Premier will provide them to the Gauteng…legislature”.

Bloom argued that Makhura should make public the two reports he had already received.

He described the delays as “gross incompetence or a deliberate cover-up” and said he would continue to push for all the reports to be made public.

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