The ongoing investigation into the tragic Johannesburg fire, which claimed 77 lives last year, is set to recommence this Wednesday in Newtown, Johannesburg. This critical development, as reported by SABC News, casts new light on the calamitous event. The focus of the inquiry is the Usindiso building, a government property reportedly overtaken by unauthorized individuals who allegedly charged rent from its occupants.
In a striking turn of events, the Commission of Inquiry, led by the esteemed retired Constitutional Court judge Sisi Khampepe, faced a logistical challenge towards the end of the previous year. The initial venue was deemed unsuitable, falling short of essential fire and safety standards, compelling a shift to a new location. This move underscores the gravity and complexity of the issues being examined, particularly concerning safety regulations in public buildings.
The proceedings have not been without controversy. Judge Khampepe made a decisive move to uphold the integrity of the commission by recusing Advocate Thulani Makhubela from his commissioner role. This decision followed allegations of bias linked to Makhubela’s purported xenophobic comments on social media, highlighting the commission’s commitment to impartiality and fairness.
The inquiry, now functioning as a two-member panel with Justice Khampepe and Vuyelo Mabena at the helm, is poised to delve deeper into the circumstances surrounding the fire. Significantly, Wynand Engelbrecht, the chief fire officer of a private fire brigade, is slated to testify today. His insights are expected to shed light on the complex safety challenges posed by the Usindiso building, which, besides its hijacked status, was reportedly housing shacks within its structure, further complicating the fire’s impact and the subsequent loss of life.
This inquiry is not just a procedural formality but a crucial step in addressing systemic safety lapses and ensuring such a tragedy is never repeated. The eyes of Johannesburg, and indeed the nation, are on the commission as it resumes its vital work in Newtown.