South Africa: Historic Eastern Cape Town Hall Which Burned Down a Year Ago Still Hasn’t Been Repaired

Komani town hall was built in 1882

  • A year after it burned down, the historic Komani town hall has still not been repaired.
  • The fire in January 2023 destroyed documents in the offices of the mayor, speaker, municipal manager, chief whip, chief operations officer and the corporate services directorate.
  • The cause of the fire remains unknown and the Hawks have closed the case.

The historic town hall in Komani (Queenstown), which burned down a year ago, has still not been repaired. And police investigations into the fire have gone nowhere.

Built in 1882, the sandstone town hall is one of the historic heritage sites in the Eastern Cape. It used to house the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality offices and meetings of the town council.

In January 2023, the town hall was set alight, a day after protesters shut down the town for two days demanding services. All the documents in the offices of the mayor, speaker, municipal manager, chief whip, chief operations officer and the corporate services directorate were lost. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

A year later, the building is still in ruins. People use it to relieve themselves, and criminals are still collecting metal to sell at the scrap yards.

Only the facade, the clock tower and two commemorative lamp posts at the entrance – installed in 1915 – are left.

Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality spokesperson Lonwabo Kowa said the municipality and the insurer have not agreed on the amount to be paid. He did not say how much was needed for repairs or how much the insurer was willing to pay. All he could say was that the town hall had been insured at the correct value.

But the United Democratic Movement, Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters say it was revealed in a council meeting last year that the Komani town hall was under-insured.

Chair of the UDM in Chris Hani, Mthuthuzeli Hokolo, said they were told that the insurance company has agreed to pay only R6-million, which is not enough to repair the hall. DA chairperson Zuko Mandile and EFF chairperson Xhanti Kanti confirmed this.

Mandile said according to the municipality an amount of R12-million is needed to repair the hall.

Meanwhile residents are calling for the arrest of people responsible for the fire.

Komani Protest Action, (now a political party led by residents who used to lead protests in Komani) said the fire started after Hawks visited the municipal offices.

Party secretary Axolile Masiza said: “We are demanding that the town hall be repaired and also that those responsible for setting it alight to be arrested. We believe that the person responsible is part of the municipality because the fire started after Hawks visited the municipality offices. Residents had nothing to gain in burning the town hall – we only wanted better service delivery.”

Masiza said since the protests things have slowly been changing.

“Street lights were fixed, garbage is now collected. Electricity was also restored,” he said.

Currently the municipality is using three wards in Komani hospital as its offices. The wards were built during the Covid epidemic as isolation wards but were never used. Council meetings are held virtually or in hired venues such as church halls, which Masiza says is a waste of money.

Hawks spokesperson Yolisa Mgolodela said an investigation into the fire had been opened but had later been closed due to insufficient evidence.

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