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Prison department 'nerve centre' will soon be safe for staff - Masutha

Minister of Justice Michael Masutha.
Minister of Justice Michael Masutha.
Image: Trevor Samson

Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha wants his staff back at HQ as soon as possible but will not go to the courts to challenge the shutdown of the building by Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga‚ on safety grounds.

In the wake of a deadly fire in the Johannesburg city centre‚ at a building which was not up to code‚ concerns have been raised about safety in older buildings occupied by government departments. Three firefighters died while trying to extinguish the blaze.

“We cannot continue to put the lives of over 1‚000 employees at risk‚ who are expected to report to work every day in a building that is not complying to safety regulations and is non-conducive‚” Msimanga said after an inspection visit on Wednesday to the Poyntons Building in the Pretoria CBD‚ after which he announced its evacuation.

On Friday‚ he announced that the city manager’s office would institute a comprehensive investigation and report on the occupational health and safety standards and fire compliance for City of Tshwane buildings. This will include buildings owned or occupied by the City.

“At the centre of these audits is our goal to preserve innocent lives‚” said Msimanga‚ of the Democratic Alliance.

Minister Masutha said following Msimanga’s intervention at the Correctional Services offices‚ the City’s Emergency Services Department contacted the owners of the building to engage on safety measures to be undertaken.

Masutha said he “is satisfied that the ongoing engagements will soon result in the Poyntons building being fully compliant with regulatory safety requirements“.

“In view of this development‚ the Minister does not believe that it is necessary at this stage to approach the courts to challenge the shutdown.”

His office added‚ “Given the public interest that attaches to this matter‚ the Minister believes that the engagement between the Municipality and the owners of the building must result in members of staff and the public who use the building feeling and being safe. Equally important is that as the nerve centre of the DCS‚ the Poyntons building must be brought back into operation as soon as possible in order for the DCS to resume its constitutional mandate. To this end‚ the DCS is also in the process of consultations with various stakeholders including staff and organised labour.”

Masutha said he “appreciates the new spirit of cooperation — including the municipality’s permission (for) engineers to access the building — between the Municipality and the DCS. In particular‚ the Minister reiterates the (ANC-led) national government’s commitment to the principle of co-operative governance which underpins the relationship between the three spheres of government.”

Msimanga explained his actions‚ stating: “At the centre of these (occupational health and safety) audits is our goal to preserve innocent lives. Naturally‚ government buildings house hundreds and hundreds of people at any given point‚ thus making it all the more urgent to ensure that buildings found to be non-compliant‚ stop operating before disaster strikes.”

“As a responsive government‚ we cannot continue with the status quo and allow ‘partially compliant’ buildings to operate under our watch. . . Regardless of our different party political affiliations and as different spheres of government‚ we need to work together to end the senseless loss of lives‚” said the mayor.

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