Devastating Charlotte Maxeke hospital fire was an act of arson — police forensic report
Maverick Citizen has obtained a copy of a SAPS forensic report that shows that arson was the cause of the fire at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH) on 16 April 2021. The report, by a senior forensic investigator, recommended further investigation by the SAPS. A year later it seems that little more has happened.
The fire led to the closure of CMJAH for many months and caused huge disruption to the provision of healthcare services in Gauteng. Eighteen months later, the hospital is still not fully functional and its future is uncertain.
In the aftermath of the fire, patients have lost their lives, doctors have given up and resigned and costs have run into hundreds of millions of rands. An inventory shows that medical goods worth R40-million were in the storeroom where the fire took place, as well as a large amount of PPE obtained to protect health workers from Covid-19.
All were destroyed.
‘Accidental causes excluded’ — report
The report is by Captain Pravisha Ramsundar, a senior forensic fire investigator who for a decade has been part of the SAPS’s Forensic Science Laboratory, Fire Investigation: Chemistry Section, based in Pretoria.
An initial request for a forensic fire investigation was made by the investigating officer from Hillbrow SAPS and Ramsundar reports that he attended “the crime scene” on 28 April (12 days after the fire), 9 and 10 June and 6 and 9 July 2021.
A sworn affidavit setting out his findings is dated 27 August 2021. In it, Ramsundar declares that there were “no external suspicious observations” and excludes various “accidental” possibilities for the fire, including:
Electrical or lighting malfunctions;
A discarded cigarette; and
Containers of a chemical (Cidex OPA solution) that several witnesses claimed had been the source of the fire. However, Ramsundar found that “the product itself does not burn”.
On this basis, Ramsundar records: “Accidental causes could be excluded as the cause of the fire.”
However, Ramsundar notes several discrepancies in what was reported by one of the CMJAH staff working in the storeroom (she is named in the report) who witnessed the outbreak of fire. He records that, in his own expert deductions as to the original site of the fire, her evidence ...