Thursday, March 30, 2023

Just how safe are our night clubs?

The Brazilians might be recovering from grief, following a horror incident in which at least 233 people died Sunday 28 January 2013, when fire gutted a nightclub packed with students and killed merry-makers, desperately clamouring to get past blocked doors.

‘Shocked survivors, mostly young adults in the southern college town of Santa Maria, described a frantic rush to the exits as flames swept through the club, with scores of people getting trampled and passing out from smoke inhalation. About 131 people were reportedly injured, and the death toll from the inferno climbed rapidly as fire fighters pulled bodies from the charred remains of the “Kiss” club, believed to have been packed with hundreds of revellers,’ media reports reveal.

Some media reports indicated that while the cause of the fire breakout was being investigated, lack of emergency exit doors could have led to the death toll.

It was reported that a club owner was arrested in connection with the incident. So was a band member from the Rock Band that was entertaining the merry makers that fateful night.
May their souls rest in peace!

Hopefully, the Brazilians, though in a tough way, have learnt their lesson; what is our position? Just how safe are our own nightclubs here in Botswana?

It is interesting to learn that there are laws and regulations that guide the running of businesses like clubs.

The Kweneng District Council picked and supplied the requirements for licensing a nightclub according to the Liquor Regulation 2008 CAP 18:01(d) in response to Sunday Standard request for clarity.

It indicates that, ‘Notwithstanding the provision of section15 of the Act, the licensing authority shall not issue or renew a discotheque/nightclub liquor license where-(i) the business premises do not meet the statutory fire protection requirements; and (iii) the business premises are not sound proof.’

This is indicative of the fact that there definitely is some inspection prior to issuing a trade license to the licensee. How far this is accomplished in our beloved country is questionable.

Such became evident when fire fighters extinguished fire at a Gaborone night club recently.

The Gaborone City Council, which extends its fire-fighting services to neighbouring places, Kweneng District inclusive, told Sunday Standard in an interview that having the hosepipe within the premises is one of the abovementioned statutory fire protection requirements.

The Council’s Public Relations Officer, Seeletso Lekgaba, further explained that there should be a fully operational fire point. Emergency exit doors should be available. The basic protection requirement is that every building being constructed should involve the fire fighters. This refers to every building. The onus is to ensure fire fighting expertise is provided from the beginning.
Most of the requirements, Lekgaba said, were lacking when the Council team went to extinguish fire after it broke out at the Gaborone West night club. The club employees also somehow worsened the situation.

“We arrived at the club exactly five minutes after we received the report. We found that the staff there tried to fight the fire before we arrived. This they should not have done. Their lack of skills led to a gas cylinder catching fire and aggravating the inferno,” she explained, adding that the sound proof material was a flammable one. They did not have hoses. Neither did the club have fire exit doors. What was fortunate for the revellers was that someone saw the fire immediately it broke out. Time was sufficient for them to exit though the limited doors.

Had the discovery been made late the Santa Maria incident could perhaps have repeated itself in this sparsely populated country. How many mourning days could have been observed here and to how many holidays would those have added to our calendar?

Nothing was explained as to whether the management of the Gaborone west nightclub was punished. The club was older than the existing requirements. It was built long before they were made. The Council staff however, Lekgaba said, often make visits around to ensure requirements are met and the rule of law is respected.

Speaking of that local example, one would recall the presence of a certain night club in a village near Gaborone.

Situated close to residential area, the club has for sometime been a nerve wrecker, especially to the elderly and the village leadership. Many who attend kgotla meetings would recall that it was the talk of the village. Of the many accusations the villagers threw at the club, top of the list was uncontrolled noise. Some leaders said that it was pure magic because it was rumoured that whenever by-law enforcement staff from District Offices confiscated the club’s music equipment, they were forced to return the same within a short period of time.

They did so with costs as court order demanded that they part with some money. For a while now the club has been untouchable. Its patrons have all the liberty to exercise their rights at that ‘adult hideout’ spot. Some leave the place around eight in the morning. Life goes on.

Visited in the wee hours of the morning – around the hours of the Santa Maria ‘Kiss’ club revulsion – it was discovered that it is now the new haven for revellers who were formerly the Gaborone West night club patrons. Thanks to their lady luck, they have no idea how shocking the Santa Maria terror was. This night club is now probably experiencing some boosted profits.

But the revellers’ increase in number has not expanded the dancing hall. Neither has it propelled the management there to create exit doors in case of fire breakout. Not even hose pipes could be found there for such emergencies. Nothing looked like fire fighting point there.

An extension of liquor restaurant, the club has two doors. On the right as one enters, is the entrance to the club. On the left is the entrance to the liquor restaurant. Between these two is an anti-burglar door. Adjacent to the burglar door, some three to four meters across the dancing floor are toilets ÔÇô for males and females.

Sound proof is there – perhaps a source of relief to this once hated outlet.

Unfortunately, none of the owners of the clubs would talk to us. But it would serve a lot of good for them to check their stock and balance equations before accusing anyone of ill-speaking.
Let, therefore, this be an appeal to both the authorities and Batswana at large to opt for prevention rather than cure.


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