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‘I saw my future vanish in front of me’

Mmabatho Palms staff in despair as fire engulfs flagship hotel

Workers at the iconic Mahikeng hotel engulfed by fire on Wednesday say they watched in despair over the gutted remains of the blaze that destroyed the property which has supported their livelihoods, leaving them uncertain of the future. 

The raging fire whose cause is still under investigation, broke out at the Mmabatho Palms Hotel on Wednesday morning, leaving half of the flagship hotel building in ruins and employees worried about their jobs. 

Deputy minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development Nokuzola Capa after escaping a blazing fire.
Image: Boitumelo Tshehle

The establishment is the source of jobs for 160 employees and its closure after the blaze according to North West economic development and tourism MEC Kenetswe Mosenogi, will mean workers will be at home without income and small businesses that provide services to it in limbo.Deputy minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development Nokuzola Capa after escaping a blazing fire.
Image: Boitumelo Tshehle

“The hotel plays a significant role in terms of the economy of the area. We draw revenue as the provincial government from gaming operation and from [small, medium and micro enterprises] SMMEs who are providing services to the establishment,” she said.

Employees who spoke to Sowetan said they were in the dark as to whether they will get their jobs back.

Lerato* (not her real name) who works at housekeeping and supports her two children with her income said: “I am numb. This morning when I arrived to work I could not believe my eyes. I saw my future vanish in front of me. I have no source of income besides this job.” 

Another employee Steven*, a bar tender for seven years, said he was fearful because things were already bad with a lot of people he knew who lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I worked for seven years and it’s getting tougher. We might have to stay at home until next year,” he said.

Another staffer said the only communication they received from management was that they must not report to work because of the incident.

“We are in the dark. No-one is telling us if our jobs are safe. I hear that the casino staff will possibly return to work before the end of this month but will it be safe for us to return?” she asked.Iconic Mmabatho Palms Hotel in Mahikeng was engulfed by ranging fire yesterday, whose cause is still under investigation.
Image: Boitumelo Tshehle

The hotel, which was built by the late magnate Sol Kerzner in the 1970s during the Bophuthatswana era, is one of Mahikeng’s landmarks with its famous casino and palm trees.

Its destruction has added to the fading legacy of many historic institutions in the town.

Peermont, the company that owns the hotel, said on Wednesday was a terrible day for Mahikeng and the province.

CEO Nigel Atherton said the property was almost 45 years old.

“It’s the first casino in the country, its where the magic of our industry started. And today is absolutely tragic, we are heartbroken of what has happened,” he said. He promised to reimburse 64 guests who were booked at the facility when the fire broke out and lost their belongings.

One guest, deputy minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development Rosemary Nokuzola Capa, said the fire happened around 1am just after she went to bed.

“I was woken up by smoke. I stood up and I tried to find the lights but they did not light and I tried to find the door, I opened and got out,” Capa said.

She said the corridor was in the cloud of smoke.

“I started to scream, saying ‘guys wake up, there is fire’!” She said she tried opening a door she thought could lead her out of the corridor to safety but it would not open.

Capa complained about the lack of a fire alert at the hotel.

“There was no siren, water sprinklers; nothing. There was no-one who was directing [guests] towards any assembly point [for safety]. Confusion reigned there.”

Mahikeng local municipality’s spokesperson Johnny Nkoane said part of the hotel was saved by fire fighters stationed about 4 kms from the hotel who reacted within eight minutes.

“They [firemen] did what they had to do to control the fire but the wind overpowered everything,” he said. He said the hotel called the firefighters at 3.47am and they arrived at  3.55am. 

“We did our level best. The entire building would have been burnt altogether. We managed to save some of parts of it.” 

North West premier Bushy Maape said he was saddened by the incident on his first day at work as leader of the province.

“This property is a prime property in the North West, particularly in Mahikeng. We are consoled by the fact that no-one lost his or her life,” he said.

Maape said it was strange that Christiana Hospital also caught fire at almost the same time as the hotel, forcing evacuation of patients at the facility.

“Misfortunes do happen. At the moment we are awaiting a report on Christiana,” he said.

DA provincial chief whip Freddy Sonakele said the destruction of the hotel by fire was a setback for the province as it contributed to the economic growth.

Deputy provincial police commissioner Gen Patrick Asaneng said they were working hard to determine the cause of the fire.

–SowetanLive

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