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No, foreign nationals didn’t start fire in Johannesburg’s Grand Station Hotel

A huge fire ripped through South Africa’s historic Grand Central Hotel in Jeppestown, Johannesburg on 2 August 2019, gutting the historic building.

A day later, a photo of the burning building was shared on Facebook with the claim the fire was started by “rampaging” migrants.

“Grand Station Hotel in Jeppestown burnt down by rampaging foreign Nationals,” the post reads. “Built in 1912. It was declared a national monument. Uncontrolled violence and not a single arrest.” 

The post has been shared more than 1,300 times.

Before the fire the building was said to have several shops and 38 residential rooms.

Was the Grand Station Hotel burned by foreign nationals in a violent protest? We investigated.

‘No evidence of foul play’

None of the news reports on the incident mentioned the possibility that the fire had been started by foreign migrants. While there were reports of attempted looting, nothing was said about “rampaging foreign nationals”.

But the rumour that the fire was the work of migrants soon spread on social media.

Africa Check asked Captain Richard Munyai, spokesperson for the Jeppestown Police Station, if the rumour was true.

Munyai told Africa Check that the fire was not related to any protests or violence. “There was no evidence of foul play,” he said.

The fire was started after a resident left a kettle of boiling water unattended, Munyai said. The water ran dry and the kettle’s element soon caught fire and spread to the rest of the building.

The police had not opened any criminal cases regarding the incident, the captain said, and no arrests had been made.

Hotel completed in 1897, and not national monument

The Facebook post made two other incorrect claims, as AFP Fact Check points out: that the Grand Station Hotel was built in 1912, and is a national monument.

But according to Kathy Munro, an honorary associate professor in Wits University’s school of architecture and planning, the hotel was “planned in 1896 and completed in 1897”.

And while it is “protected in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act”, Munro writes in a 13 August “requiem” for the hotel on the Heritage Portal, it isn’t a national monument.

The Heritage Register lists the Grand Station Hotel as protected under section 34 of the National Heritage Resources Act, which states: “No person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority.” – Butchie Seroto

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