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South African train station ‘burned to ground’ in act of ‘wanton destruction’? No, Facebook post misleads

“Burned to the ground last night, the once beautiful and 102 year old building that was Potchefstoom Train Station!” reads a message posted on Facebook on 20 September 2020.

The post includes two photos. One is a daytime view of a long, single-story building in the Cape Dutch architectural style. The second shows the same building at night and in flames.

“This wanton and senseless destruction of our nation's heritage goes on daily, unchecked by the so-called ‘government’,” the message continues. 

Potchefstroom is a town in South Africa’s North West province. The post has been viewed more than 15,000 times in 24 hours, and shared by about 260 Facebook users.

Has the Potchefstroom railway station been “burned to the ground” in a fire set as an act of “wanton and senseless destruction”? No, the Facebook post is misleading.


‘Impossible to determine cause’

The Potchefstroom Herald, a community newspaper, reports that a fire broke out on the roof of the station building at about 11 pm on Saturday 19 September. The fire brigade was reportedly on the scene immediately, and the fire brought under control about two hours later.

News of the massive fire has been picked up by several national media outlets.

The station building was extensively damaged. Photos of the fire’s aftermath published on the Citizen news site and on Twitter show that the roof collapsed and wooden fixtures were burned. But the building’s facade and walls are intact. The station did not burn to the ground.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, and was certainly unknown on the day after the fire, when the Facebook message was posted.

Both the Potchefstroom Herald and the Citizen quote Leroy Pretorius, the operational division officer for the local fire station, as saying it was impossible to determine the cause of the fire. This would be investigated by the fire safety department on 20 and 21 September.

No news outlet has reported that the fire was set in an act of vandalism. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. – Mary Alexander



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