Brave firefighters honoured
Firefighters battled to keep their composure on Wednesday as they stood in line outside the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg‚ where three of their colleagues lost their lives last week.
One of the firefighters clutched a brass helmet as tears streamed down her face while gospel tunes were played by a brass band.
With the tears still falling‚ she stood at attention‚ on command‚ at a wreath-laying ceremony.
Some firefighters knelt among the wreaths and flowers that had been placed outside the building. Others held onto their colleagues.
Simphiwe Moropana‚ Mduduzi Ndlovu and Khathushelo Muedi were killed when they reported to the building after a fire broke out on the 23rd floor.
On Wednesday, for the first time‚ their families visited the scene of their death.
Others cried and fell to the ground as their colleagues placed flowers before the three crosses outside the building. Soft sobs could be heard as they stood there.
Many were clad in black or wore blankets draped around their shoulders.
Union leader Zwelinzima Vavi was among the scores of people who came to pay their respects.
Following the wreath-laying ceremony‚ the crowds moved to the Ellis Park Stadium.
In the arena‚ pictures of the three men were placed at the front of the stage‚ along with white candles.
“We demand justice for firefighters. No more lives lost. Give us emergency services. We need to protect our people‚” read a large banner.
Some of the firefighters wore T-shirts bearing the faces of their late colleagues.
The mood in the arena had changed to a celebratory one as the firefighters sang.
The firefighters who died suffered severe burns to their hands “as they were using them to defend themselves against the flames”.
Moropana, the man who fell from the 23rd floor, was so severely injured that his body was almost unrecognisable.
This was revealed by a colleague of the three firefighters at the memorial service.
Muzikayise Zwane told mourners that Moropana was horrifically injured by the impact of the fall.
Zwane had stayed outside the building‚ waiting for their instruction to turn on the water – but when the group of firefighters got into the burning building‚ they found that there was no water.
Ndlovu and Muedi died from the flames and from smoke inhalation.