Lichtenburg town hall in ruins after so many fires

Henry

The disdain with which people interact after the town hall in Lichtenburg burned down worries them, says Barry Müller, the FAK’s national head of projects.

This is the third time in a year that a fire has broken out in municipal property – the first two times the Ampie Bosman cultural-historical museum in the town was destroyed.

A devastating fire broke out in the city hall in the early hours of Saturday morning and although neither the extent of the damage nor the cause is yet known, it is suspected that people started a fire inside the building and the flames got out of control. “We are particularly concerned about that part of Lichtenburg, which houses De La Rey’s statue, the Civil War monument, the Centenary Wall and the language monument. Five blocks away is the agricultural museum,” says Müller.

It is suspected that homeless people made fires for warmth.

In a fire that broke out at the town hall in October 2023, the museum was also destroyed by the flames. Damage to the hall was minor at the time, but all artifacts in the museum remained in the battle.

Yusuf Laher, DA caucus leader, says they are not ruling out arson. He said on Monday morning that he was going to speak to the Ditsobotla municipality’s municipal manager. He says the municipality is in a financial bind, which means either business owners have to get involved, which he doubts, or the department of art and culture has to help with the restoration of the buildings.

Müller says that after the first fire at the time, bricks were packed in a circle and it was clear that someone had “sat there and started a fire”.

Four to five months before the first fire, three letters regarding the issue were already addressed to the municipality, but no feedback was ever received. “The police office is located directly opposite the town hall and yet they don’t notice any trouble.”

Müller says it feels as if (the preservation of) heritage in the town is last on the municipality’s priority list.

The police have also been approached in writing regarding the removal of items from the rubble. According to Müller, they offered their help before the first fire in an attempt to save the agricultural museum, when the building was reduced to rubble. “Four weeks later, people were found who started a fire inside the building.”

Laher grew up in Lichtenburg and he says it is difficult to witness how badly the building was damaged.

Pius Batsile, spokesperson for the Ditsobotla municipality, says they do not yet know the extent of the damage, but confirmed that the city council does not currently have money for the repair of the building.