Busani Mthembu/ Itai Muzondo
GWERU: This year Midlands Province got to talk about mystery fires that struck Kwekwe City Council warehouse and Claremont filling station respectively. No concrete answers have been availed from the ongoing investigations to what may have caused the fires.
CommuTalk however took a step further to establish what could have caused the fires which destroyed important documents in the Kwekwe City Council works yard and also resulted in the loss of property worth thousands of USDs in the Claremont filling station fire.
Unpacking the mysteries
In the Kwekwe City Council scenario, the fire coincidentally occurred during the time a commission of inquiry set by the Ministry of Local Government was due to investigate allocation and procurement of land by the council, as well as affairs of Central Administration at the local authority.
The fire broke out on Saturday, July 3 2021 in the afternoon, raged on until Sunday morning in the presence of some security officers who were on duty manning the premises.
The fire brigade attended to the fire four hours after the outbreak started and battled with the fire into the night before leaving the flames popping out; burning until Sunday morning.
The security officers only reported the fire to the police on July 5 2021 after being pressured by councilors who were on a tour assessing the damage caused by the fire.
Nothing was recovered from the fire which reduced all the documents to ashes while the building roof caved in, only leaving damaged walls hanging. The inventory lost was from 2018 going backward.
Some of the technocrats now leading the local authority have been there, from 2012/13, when massive land allocations were rife, and till date, some individuals linked to the high esteem officials own multiple stands in the city while residents struggle to acquire a single residential stand.
Part of the team that had been in the council corridors of power included the current Finance Director Joyce Maweni who had replaced the late Zingwe in 2013 while the current Director of Housing Edison Chiangwa was deputy director to Dete in the Housing Department and the current Acting Town Clerk was in charge of Central Administration.
Everything was holed up at the central administration office, which was the engine room for all shoddy deals.
As for the Claremont fire, visual illustrations in possession of CommuTalk show that burnt trucks plastic containers in their trailers.
However, according to the Gweru fire department, the filling station owner who was not there when the fire erupted suspects that his tenant who runs gas retail could have set the station aflame as he confessed bad blood.
Investigations show that the filling station owner had at one time gotten his tenant arrested for fraud charges amounting to USD42 000. How they continued cohabitating after that however leaves a lot to be desired. It is also to this publication’s knowledge that one of the trucks burnt during the inferno belonged to the said tenant and had been attached as a way to recover the money in question.
Questions that remain unanswered however are; could the Kwekwe fire have been caused by council officials who wanted to cover up some rot that would expose how underhand deals were rife at the local authority and also, could the Claremont filling station fire be a result of foul play as reported by the proprietor during investigations carried out by the City of Gweru fire department?
…from the horse’s mouth
The Kwekwe City Works yard storeroom was used to store archived documents from Finance and Works department, as confirmed by the acting Town Clerk Dr. Lucia Mkandhla, when contacted for comment.
She also said they are yet to get a detailed report from Kwekwe Fire Brigade which was tasked to investigate the inferno.
“You can contact the Fire Brigade department because there are the ones who were investigating the incident. The storeroom had archived documents from the Finance and Works department,” she said.
Dr. Mkandhla could however not say if the local authority had put in place measures to safeguard important Council documents in case of future mishaps.
Kwekwe Mayor, Councilor Future Titora however, contradicted the acting Town Clerk and said there were no important documents in the storeroom.
“There were no important documents in the storeroom, so there were no further investigations. We concluded that it was just a fire outbreak at the storeroom,” said Mayor Titora, in an effort to water down the case.
Meanwhile, the City of Gweru fire department Chief Fire Officer, Felix Muguti said they have not yet concluded their investigations. He however noted that there are many leads that show unusual cause to the fire, including safety irregularities, that he said could not share until the investigation is completed.
Asked what transpired until the fire broke out, Claremont filling station manager Meritha Khondlo hung up her phone soon after reconfirming that it was the press calling her.
“You said who am I talking to…sorry I am busy,” Khondlo said before hanging up.
CommuTalk however alternatively contacted the business owner, Cornelius Mupfumiri who confirmed that he has a suspect though he said could do nothing about it since he had no evidence.
“I largely think what befell me was foul play but unfortunately, I have no evidence to help the law nab the suspect. I however wish for justice to prevail,” Mupfumiri said.
During a Kwekwe City full council meeting in May, councilors requested to be furnished with details of land distribution in Kwekwe from city management.
The person in custody of the stand details, acting Central Administration and Procurement manager Willard Fazhe had said his laptop with soft copy documents pertaining to land distribution, was allegedly stolen at home.
This angered councilors who came out guns blazing requesting a forensic audit of Kwekwe City Council. The request was done to the Minister of Local Government who then appointed a Commission of Inquiry, to look into the affairs of the local authority.
When the Commission of Inquiry descended in Kwekwe, it requested documents that were stuffed at the works yard storeroom.
Surprisingly and coincidentally, a mysterious fire broke out in the storeroom.
The council police officer who was on duty that day said the fire started from outside the works yard fence.
“I suspect that a passerby dropped a cigarette stub, which started the fire and it spread up to the storeroom,” he said.
“A fireman suggested to others to save other documents by retrieving them physically than using water and he was told to keep using the water,” said a source who was present when the fire brigade was battling to extinguish the fire.
A municipal policeman also revealed that the storeroom is also used to keep council resource material like water pipes, tyres, and other valuables.
“The works yard storeroom record logbook was kept there inside the storeroom,” the municipal cop said.
Besides the mishap, the Commission of Inquiry however went on to spend two weeks camped at Kwekwe City Council offices and residents are still to hear their findings that is if investigations managed to continue.
On the other hand, sources have told CommuTalk that Claremont filing station personnel were mixing diesel and paraffin in order to multiply quantities for profiteering while a welding machine was being used to fix a tanker at the filling station whose sparks are suspected to have caused the fire.
The fire supposedly spread quickly as the attendants were reportedly using plastic containers to aid the diesel and paraffin mix.
Mupfumiri however denied all indicators that have been hinted as possible causes to the fire saying there is no way a welding machine could have triggered the blaze since the complex had no power at the time the fire started. This is regardless of the fact that sources on the site had already indicated that generators were in use.
A visual illustration of pictures gathered by this publication on CommuTalk Website lucidly depicts how the fire could have spread.