Red flag over hospital security after fire


FIRST RESPONDERS: A Makana Fire Fighter extinguishes flames at a disused building at Settlers Hospital, at 1.20pm on Sunday 11 September. Picture: Sue Maclennan

A fire destroyed a disused building at Settlers Hospital in Makhanda around midday on 11 September 2022. Health Department spokesperson Yonela Dekeda said staff on duty noticed the fire close to the south-western boundary of the hospital grounds and quickly informed the CEO.

“On arrival, the CEO realised that the [disused] nurses’ home side building was on fire,” Dekeda said. “The Fire Department and SAPS were called and responded swiftly to the scene. No injuries have been reported.”

Makana Fire Manager William Welkom confirmed that the call was received around 12.15pm.

“A crew immediately responded and found a building at the back of the hospital, used as a nurses’ home, engulfed in flames.”

The fire crew brought the fire under control and contained the fire, Welkom said.

“The entire structure constructed of asbestos cladded and pre-fabricated material collapsed. No one was injured,” Welkom said.

The building had been unoccupied at the time.  Five fire vehicles and 10 x fire fighters had attended to the fire, Welkom said. The Rhodes University water tanker had assisted at the scene, along with two Rhodes staff members.

A second structure damaged in the fire at Settlers Hospital on 11 September 2022. Picture: Sue Maclennan

Welkom and Dekeda said the cause of the fire had not been determined.

Although the flames were extinguished, smoke was still visible shortly before 3pm as material continued to smoulder.

“The team is still busy carrying out damping down procedures, as there is a lot of smouldering debris,” Welkom confirmed at 5pm.

There was confusion when Talk of the Town first posted about the fire on Facebook, with a former nurse saying that the nurses’ home had been at the north-east end of the hospital grounds, not the south-western end.

“Those buildings [where the fire was] were the old Barratt wards,” said one former nurse. “We were nursing in the mid 60s -70s and it was very much in use then.”

The Department of Health has since confirmed that since then, the (south-west end) buildings were used as a crèche, then as a nurses’ home. A local source said they had been abandoned since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020.

One of several breaches in fencing that runs along the southern edge of the hospital grounds. Picture: Sue Maclennan

Security concern

A walk in the veld south of the hospital revealed several breaches in the perimeter fence, one of them as wide as a car. Across these breaches are well worn paths leading to areas where signs suggest that people spend time there and possibly sleep there. The hospital’s senior management, accompanied by security personnel, were later seen inspecting those paths and the fence.

Among other items, Talk of the Town found several cut-open emptied “envelopes” of asbestos cladding on the path outside the broken fence, suggesting that metal pipes may have been removed.

DEBRIS: Cladding, such as is used on metal pipes, lies sliced open on a path in the veld adjacent to the hospital’s broken perimeter fence. Picture: Sue Maclennan

TOTT has asked the Department of Health whether they are considering vandalism and/or theft as a possible link to the fire, given the ease with which it is possible to enter and leave the premises via the broken fence. Because of the breaches in the fence, we have also asked what measures the DoH will be taking to secure the property, staff and patients at the hospital.

Talk of the Town will report further once we have engaged further with the Department.

*UPDATE Monday 12 September – the Department of Health has responded as follows:
“There are no vagrants that occupy unused buildings at Settlers Hospital and we have not experienced any cable theft in the hospital. The buildings that caught fire are currently not being utilised. The management of the facility together with Infrastructure at Head Office is currently attending to the open fence issue as part of maintenance.”

DESTRUCTION: A disused building at the south end of Settlers Hospital, most recently used as a nurses’ home, was destroyed in a fire on Sunday 11 September 2022. Picture supplied

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