Posted on: September 9, 2021, 07:24h.
Last updated on: September 9, 2021, 08:37h.
Investigations are underway into the cause of a fire that ravaged South Africa’s oldest casino, the Mmabatho Palms Hotel, Casino and Convention Resort, on Wednesday morning.
While details are scarce, aerial images of the property in Mahikeng, in South Africa’s northwest, showed that much of the building has been gutted by flames. Initial reports suggested some guests had been trapped in their rooms during the blaze, but there were no fatalities.
Peermont Hotel Group CEO Nigel Atherton said in statement there had been some minor injuries and that some guests were being treated for smoke inhalation.
“We had 64 guests at the hotel and they have been transferred to another hotel,” Atherton said. “For the next three months the hotel will be closed.”
‘I Couldn’t Breathe’
Among the guests staying at the property when the fire broke out was South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, Zoleka Capa. She told local media outlet City Press she was awakened by smoke at around 1 a.m.
I couldn’t breathe. It was dark and there was heavy smoke. Outside, there was heavy smoke. The fire was raging and I started shouting: ‘Fire, fire!’ I saw people running and some pulling their luggage. I was taken to hospital because I was struggling to breathe,” Capa said.
She complained of a lack of fire-safety protocols and a proper evacuation process.
Capa was in town to attend the swearing-in of the newly elected Northwest Premier Bushy Maape, who lives close to the resort. Provincial chairperson Paul Sebegoe told media he was concerned about the possibility of foul play, because high-profile members of the government had been staying at the resort.
“This situation is unsuitable. We urge for an immediate investigation to make a determination on potential cause,” he said.
Deputy provincial police commissioner Patrick Asaneng said his department was on the case.
“It is important that we conduct an in-depth investigation, we have on site our forensic fire investigators who will immediately investigate. We will expedite the investigation and within a week we would be able to report to the public about the cause of the fire.”
The Mmabatho Palms, formerly the Mmabatho Sun, was the first casino resort to be built by late hospitality and gaming tycoon Sol Kerzner, and the first in South Africa when it opened in 1977.
Kerzner went on to develop Sun City, in 1981, arguably the blueprint for the modern integrated resort.