The unfortunate incident in which 49 vehicles belonging to spectators of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race were burnt to ashes in Jwaneng over the weekend has exposed a whole litany of challenges faced by the country’s fire departments and firefighting service provision.
By the end of this week, no answers were forthcoming as to the delay of fire vehicles to dowse out the fire before it engulfed all the 49 vehicles – all that is official is that investigations are ongoing.
In an effort to get answers from the Jwaneng Town Council, this publication was re-routed to the District Commissioner whose phone rang unanswered.
Besides the investigations, the only other development since the fire has been the visit to the scene by Minister of defence and security Kagiso Mmusi whose stance was that fire department did all that was possible under the circumstances.
Mmusi further indicated that it was too early to tell how the victims would be assisted. It was clear that besides the visit, the minister had nothing much to assure the victims.
However, what remains certain is that the Jwaneng Town Council fire equipment is non-functional, and from the staff, the fire unit was not part of the preparatory committee of the event – to advice on issues of fire safety and readiness.
At least this is the information coming from the Botswana Landboards and Local, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU)leadership which came out strongly this week in different media platforms that Jwaneng Fire unit was never made part of the local organising committee. Infact, lack of firefighting equipment is prevalent across the country.
While the ill-fated vehicles were legitimately parked in a space designated for the purpose, with most the drivers having been directed to the spot by the marshals and police to park there, the space was dangerously overgrown with grass. This was the first red flag that in the event of a fire, it would be catastrophic.
There was, from the observation of our reporter, no security manning to man the parking to ensure that there was no use open of open fire as was a requirement for all applying for vendor licences during the event. There was therefore a law enforcement lapse in this regard, and that could go wrong went wrong!
Pundits have posited that if indeed the Fire Unit was left out of the local event preparatory structures in the town, then fire safety measures were never taken into consideration. Had they been involved, they argue, all the fire threats would have been identified and risks mitigated – among these would have the clearing of the over grown grass in all the designated parking spots. There would also been security provided at all the areas where spectator’s vehicles were parked. There would also have been law enforcement to ensure that no open fires are allowed where vendors operated from.
It has also been argued that had the council fire unit been brought on board, plans could have made to pool firefighting equipment from other fire stations to be on standby in Jwaneng.