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10th Sep 2022

Architect Africa Online

Africa's Leading Architecture Aggregator

Only a private/public partnership will reopen Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in time


by Jack Bloom MPL – DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health

The Democratic Alliance proposes a private/public partnership to fully re-open the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital (CMJH) within a period of one year.

This is necessary as thousands of patients are suffering severe hardship as major sections of the hospital remain closed.

According to the MEC for Infrastructure Development, Tasneem Motara, all the structurally safe sections of the hospital will only fully open in 2023, while no date can be given at this stage for the repair of the fire-damaged sections.

Motara’s dysfunctional department failed to do the fire safety audits at the hospital that could have prevented the fire, and it cannot be trusted to complete any project on time and within budget. A sad example is the renovation of the Psychiatric Ward at CMJH which took 11 years at a cost of R35 million, which was triple the original budget. This project had to go out on tender four times as the first three contractors failed to finish the job.

It is unthinkable that the department’s incompetence could delay the opening of this major hospital for a lengthy period.

Another issue is the alleged lack of building plans for the hospital, and safety issues raised by the Johannesburg City Council. It is a complete falsity to claim that there were no building plans because the hospital was designated a National Key Point as there was no provision for secrecy in this regard. A number of commemorative books and articles have been published with a fair amount of detail on the hospital layout (these are available on request).

Mr David Day was an Architect Adviser for the consortium that built the hospital in the 1970s. He writes as follows:

“I was employed on the project from 1970 to 1976. This 6 year period spanned almost the entire planning, design, construction and commissioning time frame of the original hospital project. I have a detailed recollection of the architectural and engineering aspects of the project and the approval procedures undertaken. In addition to the weekly section by section approval of drawings by the medical team assigned by the client to provide the detailed brief, and following council approval of the Site Development Plan and full services layouts, this included submission to council of full and comprehensive working drawings of the entire hospital complex.

It was necessary to submit several duplicate copies, in those days coloured by hand, to council and my clear recollection is that, architecturally, this was a superbly well documented project comprising general floor layouts, elevations and sections at a scale of 1:100 together with schedules and a full set of larger scale information sheets detailing every aspect of the building. At the time, this set of drawings were, I believe, widely regarded as a text book set of architectural documentation.

If, as reported, the drawings are no longer available, this is highly regrettable and can only be the result of council having misplaced or lost the files. If, however, the accusation is that no drawings were submitted, this is an absolutely absurd suggestion as no project of this size, or any other for that matter at the time, would have proceeded without all approvals being in place including Municipal Town Planning, Water and Sewer department, Roads and Stormwater Department, Fire Department etc “(emphasis added).

The DA’s Johannesburg Caucus Leader Leah Knott has put in questions to the Johannesburg MMC for Development Planning concerning the whereabouts of these plans which should be in their records section, as well as the issues that need to be resolved for an occupancy certificate to be issued to the hospital. These questions are due to be answered at the council meeting next week on Thursday 24 March.

We need to know whether the plans are genuinely lost, and what can be done to cut the red tape and comply with the safety requirements, or obtain temporary exemption so that the hospital can function as soon as possible.

The main hospital building was erected from 23 500 precast concrete structures from March 1974 to June 1976 – 25 months in total. The innovative “all concrete” option was taken to provide the necessary fire protection rating which would have been more expensive with a steel structure (see attached article here). A repair job should surely take much less time than this.

The best way to repair the hospital and fully reopen it is to set up a private/public partnership (PPP) with the best brains in the private sector and civil society. Mr Day has offered his assistance to assist in the repair of the hospital, and other people with expertise would no doubt join in as well. We have seen how the Gauteng Health Department dithered in drilling boreholes at two hospitals that were short of water, until the Gift of the Givers stepped in and promptly did the job.

This PPP should be set up with Treasury Approval and given a one-year deadline to do what needs to be done so that this hospital can attend to thousands of patients who need specialist treatment for their ailments. It would be nothing less than a predictable catastrophe if this task was left to the incompetent Infrastructure Development Department which bungles everything it touches.

Every delay leads to extra suffering for patients who are not getting proper specialist treatment, and also overcrowding other hospitals, with lives being lost as well. The surgery backlogs are massive and need to be cut soon.

The DA believes that if we put the best brains to work on this project without bureaucratic obstacles it can be done!


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