Maverick Citizen


Devastating Charlotte Maxeke hospital fire was an act of arson — police forensic report

Devastating Charlotte Maxeke hospital fire was an act of arson — police forensic report
Firefighters at the scene of the fire at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital on 16 April 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Morapedi Mashashe)

The fire led to the closure of Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital 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.

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.

maxeke hospital fire

Firefighters at the scene of the fire at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital on 16 April 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Morapedi Mashashe)

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.

maxeke fire damage 3maxeke fire damage 4

maxeke fire damage 5A 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:

  • Natural factors;
  • 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”.

maxeke fire damage 6

maxeke fire damage 7

maxeke fire damage 8

On this basis, Ramsundar records: “Accidental causes could be excluded as the cause of the fire.”

Several discrepancies

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 was “inconsistent with fire dynamics, growth, development and fire behaviour”.

He concludes: “Based on inconsistent fire information received during the interviews, the misdirection of the origin of the fire, the lack of a legitimate ignition source within Area A, and the fact that the audits in the storage facility were ongoing, it is thus imperative, for the investigating officer to investigate this matter further, thus, until such time Arson classified as incendiary cannot be excluded as the cause of the fire.”

Later in the report Ramsundar records: “The ignition factor which brought the ignition source in close contact with the fuel in an oxygenated environment and thus causing a fire may have been a malicious human behaviour.”

His conclusion is: “The cause of the fire was Arson classified as Incendiary.”

Ramsundar’s affidavit was signed on 27 August 2021.

Staff affidavits

Also included in the SAPS report are affidavits from CMJAH staff who worked in the storeroom and witnessed the fire start — but strangely they were only taken in September 2021, six months after the fire.

One of the affidavits is by the deputy director for assets and inventory, who says that he was in the vicinity of the storeroom that morning “to deal with discrepancies emanated from stock-taking as the stock-taking requirement before the submission of the final stock-take report”. 

When he had left the storeroom at 9am, “nothing was suspicious”.

Doctors and civil society groups have repeatedly called for updates on the investigation. However, it is not clear what has happened to the investigation since Ramsundar’s report more than a year ago. During this time the hospital has continued to be plagued by reports of corruption, sabotage and arson as a possible cause of a second fire in July 2022 that was quickly extinguished. 

No official comment on arson report

Asked to comment on the report, Vuyo Mhaga, the spokesperson for Gauteng Premier David Makhura said: ​​“The premier has not received any forensic report from SAPS. Therefore, we are not in a position to answer your questions.”

The CEO of the hospital, Gladys Bogoshi, referred our questions to the Gauteng Department of Health, which did not respond.

Although the spokesperson for the SAPS in Gauteng said: “I am doing my best to get information from the relevant department and unfortunately for now I am still struggling”, the information was not forthcoming. 

Dr Aslam Dasoo, convenor of the Progressive Health Forum (PHF), which convened the Open CMJAH Now campaign, says the PHF has initiated a comprehensive Promotion of Access to Information request for information about the investigation into the causes of the fire and the damage that it caused.

Impact on healthcare

maxeke shabir madhi

Dr Shabir Madhi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University. (Photo: Supplied)

Professor Shabir Madhi, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University said yesterday: “It is concerning that there has been no visible progress in apprehending those who were responsible. 

“Considering the fracas that has surrounded the repairs at the hospital, which is now only expected to be completed in 2027, it is difficult not to speculate that the arson is somehow linked with tender opportunities that would have arisen in the restoration of the hospital, which conservatively is estimated to cost R1.2-billion.

“In the meantime, more than a year after the fire, the hospital is still not fully functional, there remains a backlog of treating life-threatening diseases — including delays in initiating cancer treatment, healthcare workers remain despondent and training of future healthcare workers is being compromised. The impact of this immoral act on South Africans, unfortunately, impacts mainly those dependent on the public sector for healthcare.” DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Stucke says:

    Would it be a reasonable conclusion that the fire was started deliberately in an attempt to hide theft of stock from the storeroom?

  • Coenie Harley says:

    The release of this report at this stage of the investigation makes me wonder what is the difference of the legal advice compared to the report of the Enyobeni tavern?

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Why do Africans seek to destroy? Hospitals, civic buildings, schools, assets of our country, yet some seek to destroy.

    Why is this? Are they still locked into some nihilistic past? What drove the looting frenzies in, largely Zulu areas last July?

    Clearly, in my mind there are political agendas – but surely it cannot be as simplistic as a desire to return to a “caveman type World” where those seemingly incapable of adapting and flourishing in a modern World, feel more comfortable?

  • Graeme J says:

    There we go. It took only 18 months to get a forensic report on the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital fire.

    So glad that DM is still pursuing the matter. The destruction of the hospital was a disaster on a huge scale for Gauteng health.

    • Charles Parr says:

      Yes a big loss to the people of Gauteng but of no importance to provincial government or the SAPS and it seems that none of them care a fig about investigating this properly, holding anyone accountable or actually getting the hospital repaired.

  • Chris 123 says:

    Arson, yes to hide all the corruption documentation.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The Gauteng government thieves who have been looting public health resources and first burnt the building housing the Health Department burnt Charlotte Maxeke and we knew when it happened that to Provincial ANC people are involved in the destruction of the hospital. The case against Brian Hlongwa is going nowhere regarding R2billion. The R500 million scandal in Carltonville is also going nowhere and the scape goating of an official in the Babeta Deokran case and the non – existent SIU proclamation that Makhura speaks of, is smoke and mirrors. People with health tenders in Gauteng are well known. The police know them too but are not arresting them. A housing official who refused to take bribe money in 2016 survived a shooting after discovering double payments on a single contract and resigned to preserve his life. That is the extent of corruption in Gauteng. The education PPE scandal is going nowhere and Makhura thinks
    that we all have a low coefficient of thinking with his theatrics. He knows who are the real culprits and the police must start with him to question!

  • Richard Baker says:

    If this was an loss insured by one of the major local companies:
    •The preliminary Fire Forensic report would have been issued within 1 month.
    •The final report within 3 months.
    •The damage would have been assessed, scoped and costed within 2 months.
    •Reinstatement commenced within 3 months.
    •Completed-including any upgrades/compliance with current requirements-within 12-15 months.

    What is wrong with the department and officials involved here and why have they not called in the expertise available?

    Incompetent, unqualified, unmanaged, workshy, corrupt-the arrogance of ignorance!

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

[%% img-description %%]

The Spy Bill: An autocratic roadmap to State Capture 2.0

Join Heidi Swart in conversation with Anton Harber and Marianne Merten as they discuss a concerning push to pass a controversial “Spy Bill” into law by May 2024. Tues 5 Dec at 12pm, live, online and free of charge.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options