Fire safety review in Cape Town buildings after tragic Johannesburg fire

Ndifuna Ukwazi and Reclaim the City plan to strengthen fire safety protocols in two buildings occupied by activists

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Fire safety measures are to be reviewed at the old Woodstock Hospital and the old Helen Bowden Nurses Home, which have been occupied by housing activists, following last week’s tragic fire in Johannesburg. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

The tragic fire in Johannesburg last week has prompted a review of fire safety measures in two buildings occupied by housing activists in Cape Town.

The fire in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, killed at least 77 people.

In Cape Town, the old Woodstock Hospital, named Cissie Gool House by the Reclaim the City campaign run by the housing movement Ndifuna Ukwazi, currently houses about 1,000 people. The former Helen Bowden Nurses Home, named Ahmed Kathrada House, houses about 700 people. The Woodstock Hospital is owned by the City of Cape Town and the Helen Bowden Nurses Home is owned by the Western Cape Government.

A fire in January 2022 at Woodstock Hospital severely damaged five rooms in the building.

Zacharia Mashele, a spokesperson for Ndifuna Ukwazi, told GroundUp that the Johannesburg fire “has prompted a review of existing safety measures”.

At Cissie Gool House, fire awareness workshops will be held and fire safety training is being planned by the building’s management agency, which was appointed by the City of Cape Town. Fire detectors will also be tested and fire hydrants will be replaced.

A spokesperson for the City of Cape Town said that although the occupation of the Woodstock hospital was illegal, “the City remains the owner and assumes all the associated obligations, including fire safety on our properties and inspections for non-compliance”.

At Ahmed Kathrada House, Ndifuna Ukwazi will be installing fire detectors. Mashele says that the building is at great risk because the province has cut off direct water services to the building. “The province must prioritise restoring these essential services promptly. As it currently stands the occupiers are relying on fire detectors,” said Mashele.

The Western Cape Department of Human Settlements and Infrastructure was approached for comment but had not responded by the time of publication.

TOPICS:  Fire Housing

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