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The fire at the Polokwane regional court on Friday raises serious questions about risk and safety control at South African courts and the management of critical court records.
Friday’s fire is particularly distressing for four reasons:
Firstly, it is of great concern that the fire extinguishers and sprinkler system were out of order when the fire happened. The Department must take steps to ensure that safety regulations are complied with.
Secondly, according to our information arson is suspected and is being investigated. Given that on Friday, an ANC MPL was due to appear in court on rape charges, and given that this is the same court where Julius Malema is supposed to appear on criminal charges, our concerns are aggravated. We trust that the police investigation will be speedily concluded, and if arson is proved, the perpetrators must be brought to book as quickly as possible.
In addition, given the serious budget constraints facing the Justice Department, this is an expense that it can ill afford, and which could have the effect of depriving other communities of a new court or upgrading or maintaining an existing one.
It has also been reported that the administrative offices were destroyed which included the destruction of all computers, documents and sound equipment. This obviously gives rise to concerns about court records.
The DA will be submitting parliamentary questions about what records were destroyed and whether the records have an off-site back-up. We will also be asking how many courts have working fire extinguishers and how often they are checked.
The Director General at last week's Annual Report hearings highlighted the effects of drastic budget cuts on the Department. This is a classic example of why South Africa cannot afford to cut corners when it comes to allocating money to the Justice Department.