Jagersfontein disaster could have been prevented

Issued by Leona Kleynhans – DA Member of the Free State Provincial Legislature
17 Mar 2023 in Press Statements

Note to editors: Please find attached English and Afrikaans soundbites by Leona Kleynhans MPL.

For nine months the Free State has had no functional Provincial Disaster Management Centre as required by law. This after the Provincial Disaster Management Centre was ordered to vacate the building by the Department of Employment and Labour on 6 June last year, due to an unsafe working environment, and not meeting the minimum infrastructure standards required for a disaster management centre. Please see video and pictures here, here and here.

The critical function of provincial disaster management is decreed by the Disaster Management Act of 2002, which mandates that it specialise in disaster mitigation, prevention, and response. The centre must coordinate the various departments, emergency services, municipalities, and NGOs in the event of a disaster, but also has a special emphasis on prevention and mitigation. The Disaster Management function is located within the Department of CoGTA.

Due to the abandonment of the centre last year, when staff were moved to various offices in the Central Business District of Mangaung, their co-ordination capacity has been severely curtailed. Centre staff are unable to call a Joint Operations Centre, and must request the SAPS to do so, in case of a disaster. The centre has no war room where coordination meetings of the Advisory Forum can be held or a command centre where quick decisions can be taken. There is no parking for staff or visitors to these offices which are scattered around a labyrinthine two-winged building. It is therefore impossible for the centre to fulfil its coordination role.

On our visit to the abandoned and fortified centre found an overgrown and rubbish-strewn site. The conference room furniture is standing inside, while offices still have furniture and files, maps and charts stuck on the walls. According to reports some of the ceilings have collapsed, while what appears to be several years’ worth of vegetation threatens to pull down the gutters.

It is inconceivable that the staff were hurriedly evacuated from the centre nine months ago, and since then no attempt has been made by the Provincial Government to repair this crucial building, to allow the Centre to continue with its vital work. For several years budgets have been allocated for the renovation of the Centre, but this has never materialised.

The Democratic Alliance will raise this outrageous situation with the Minister of CoGTA and the National Disaster Management authorities. It cannot be allowed that the entire province to be betrayed in this fashion by the ANC government. From questions filed in the Legislature previously, it is very clear that fire and disaster services at municipal and district levels are virtually non-existent. As we saw on 11 September last year when the tailings dam collapsed in Jagersfontein, the response from Provincial Government was painfully slow, and Gift of the Givers had to provide the first response to the affected community. Experts have said that the imminent collapse of the dam could be seen on google maps, several days before it eventually gave way. This is precisely the role of Provincial Disaster Management. To have known about the unfolding disaster and issued early warnings to the government and the community.

It is clear from this fiasco that the ANC-led provincial government does not care about the people, and is not serious about protecting them from disasters which in the Free State include fires, floods, droughts and mining disasters.

We will do everything within our power to ensure that the Provincial Disaster Management Centre is rebuilt and can continue with its critical work of predicting, mitigating threats, and preventing and responding to disasters.