The National Museum in Bloemfontein in the Free State has lamented the burning of the historic Bloemfontein City Hall‚ describing it as a “disaster” to the country’s heritage and a blow to the town’s buoyant tourism economy.
The Bloemfontein City Hall‚ which is part of the town’s aesthetic President Brand Street national heritage conservation area‚ caught ablaze on Wednesday‚ allegedly‚ during a scuffle between police and members of the SA Municipal Workers Union protesting over promised salary hikes.
The heritage precinct‚ lined by sandstone buildings‚ is also home to a number of monuments and buildings of historic significance‚ including the Fourth Raadsaal‚ and the SA Supreme Court of Appeal.
Mariaan Botes‚ cultural historian and researcher at the Bloemfontein National Museum‚ said the building was unique in that it was the only city hall that has two towers.
“Other halls in the country have only one tower‚ giving it its distinct structure. Priceless and irreplaceable. It has significant tourism value as it is one of the attractions in the town. It is a disaster‚” she said.
Botes‚ who has lived in Bloemfontein for over three decades‚ said she was unsure whether the building‚ designed by Sir Gordon Leith‚ could be restored because it was 81 years old.
“The cornerstone was laid in 1934 and the building itself completed in 1936‚” she said.
The roof of the building collapsed around 8.20pm‚ with the fire brought under control at around 10pm — according to local media reports.
SAMWU said it was equally shocked at the fire.
“In fact we are convinced that none of our members are even capable of such‚ this coupled with the fact that our offices are adjacent to the building and as such they would not burn their own offices. This by the way‚ is a fire which began long after our members had dispersed from the vicinity of the building‚” Free State provincial secretary Thabang Tseuoa said in a statement.
He said the Mangaung Metro should take the blame.
“We are also of the view that police should account for the fire as they were the ones securing the building prior to them indiscriminately shooting at workers for no apparent reason. In the mean time‚ we shall await the outcome of investigations into the cause of the fire.”
Mangaung metro spokesperson Qondile Khedama said they were still quantifying the extent of the damage. – Tiso Black Star Group