By Millicent Kgowedi
City officials this week turned the tables, preaching to Soweto church ministers about land use, fire safety, environmental health, food safety and illegal electrical connections.
Scores of religious leaders from Soweto gathered at the Walter Sisulu Hall in Kliptown on Wednesday to listen to City officials preaching the message of worshipping in safety.
Officials from various City departments and municipal owned entities said the pastors who worship in marquees and open spaces need both divine guidance and obedience to City by-laws to ensure the safety of their flock.
Thousands of Sowetans from Evangelical churches and African independent churches often worship in makeshift marquees or public open spaces.
The purpose of the workshop was to ensure that pastors take steps to avert incidents that could compromise the safety of their congregations by obeying the City’s environmental, public health and safety by-laws.
To create a welcoming atmosphere for the ministers, the workshop was opened with a prayer and a brief scriptural reference.
Presentations were made by officials from City Parks, Pikitup, town planning, the emergency management services (EMS) and the environmental health unit. Eskom also joined the City’s initiative with a short presentation.
City officials spoke on various topics, including land use, fire safety, environmental health and electrical connections.
The Safety message
“Many people don’t know much about the by-laws of the City. We decided to go to the churches to educate the leaders, trusting that the message will filter down to their congregations,” said Lucky Potelo, code enforcer from the EMS.
Potelo added that EMS is obliged to ensure the safety of ordinary people around the city and they are responsible for educating the public about what they can do to avoid disasters and how to respond to emergency situations.
Marquees themselves could endanger lives if they are unstable, said Jabu Dhlamini, the workshop co-ordinator.
According to Dhlamini, 75 marquees inspected in July around Soweto and Lenasia were found to be unsafe. Dhlamini cited the example of a woman who was left paralysed when a marquee collapsed at a Women’s Day function held at the Union Buildings in 2005. “This was a very sad case because a marquee was erected without consulting the relevant people to inspect and assist in making it safe for people. We ensure that all major events hosted within the City are safe including taking crowd control measures.”
Tlale Lerefelo, also from EMS, made a point that marquees found during inspections are often not stable, some don’t have fire equipments and the tents or marquees only have one exit.
“Pastors, this is very dangerous. There are instances where chairs are placed too closely together; getting out of a row is problematic. So you can imagine having to get out in an emergency situation. According to the National Building Regulations 0400, there should be a space of 1mÂ² per person and the gates should be 4m wide for the ambulance to have access to the venue.”
Lerefelo called on the ministers to avoid using flammable material for catering during church gatherings. “We know that elders in church want the pastors to preach in a well decorated tent but all tablecloths must be fire-tested; we need to check the type of materials used. Some fabrics take longer to burn and we encourage you to use those for draping,” she said.
Explaining how town planning affected the pastors, Lesego Maloka said: “In simple terms we control the use of land with specific emphasis on the development and also control of land uses.”
She explained that there are different types of land uses including residential, business, industrial, community facilities, municipal and public open space. “Each land has its specifics and it becomes our duty to regulate the land use, with a purpose of ensuring the health, safety and welfare of society as a whole and taking into account environmental factors.
Cynthia Mosiuoa from the City’s disaster management unit spoke about managing disasters. “We can all avoid disasters by getting the education and training necessary to equip the public about disasters.”
Mosiuoa added that the training they offer at their unit equips people to face disasters.
She drew a clear distinction between disasters and incidents. “When 50 shacks burn down, that does not indicate a disaster situation, it [is considered] an incident. This means that the disaster management team can handle the situation and there is no need to look for external help. But the tsunami was a disaster but floods affecting a community will not necessarily be declared a disaster.”
Even the lunch break was an opportunity to discuss safety issues â€“ this time, food safety.
Nomasonto Nsibande from the City’s environmental health was on hand to inspect the food before it was served. “I was not invited to inspect the food but to do a presentation about environmental health, but wherever I go I am on duty,” she said.
Food at community gatherings should be inspected, she said. “If people get sick from eating food for example at a councillor’s funeral, it becomes a problem, we need to be consulted to come and inspect the food and ensure that it complies with the food safety by-law.”
Using public spaces
Supporting the environmental health officials was Meisie Maluleka, operational manager at Pikitup, who called on the preachers to make use of bins provided by the utility, and to keep their environment clean. “Most of our churches don’t have bins and litter left lying around gets blown by the wind.”
She advised pastors to apply for 240-litre bins. “All you’ll need is proof of payment of rates and a stand number.”
Olga Manganye, from City Parks spoke on the use of public open spaces for worship. She said that the parks are kept clean and safe for the public and it is important for people to report littering, cars parked on the lawn, playing loud music and people drinking alcohol in parks.
“Parks can only be used for worship between 6am and 6pm, anytime after those fixed hours is trespassing on City Parks’ property. Remember that parks are not meant for church without consultation,” said Manganye.
Eskom highlighted common problems including plug overloading, illegal electricity connections and connecting worn-out electric extension cables. “People have no idea how dangerous electricity is, they don’t know that it kills people,” said Danisa Xasha.
Xasha said children should be monitored when using electrical appliances. “The word dangerous is foreign to most kids and they are often hurt out of innocent play,” she said.of innocent play,” she said.