Turnhalle Burns

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Part of the historic Turnhalle building, which housed the SADC Tribunal, burnt down in the early hours of yesterday morning. The Emergency Management department of the City of Windhoek was called around 03h00 by one of the crime prevention city police officers that was on patrol. By the time the fire brigade arrived on the scene, the fire had already spread, said the Acting Fire Chief of Emergency Management, Sydney Theron yesterday. The fire, whose origin, Theron said, is not known burnt the whole Tribunal causing extensive damage to property, that the emergency management department says could run into thousands or millions of dollars. The courtroom was gutted completely, while offices and other parts of the building remain partly damaged. The Ministry of Justice said in a statement the Office of the Registrar of the Tribunal and the Administrator are conducting ongoing assessments of the damage and reported that certain equipment survived the blaze. The part that houses the Directorate of Print Media was not burnt after the firefighters blocked the raging fire from spreading further. The Director of the Forensic Department, Dr Paul Ludik, said from Grootfontein where he and his team are conducting another investigation, that he was in touch with people on the ground and would know the cause of the fire after conducting a scientific investigation to determine the origin and cause and also the extent of the damage. The building was renovated to accommodate the Tribunal and was inaugurated in November 2005 and commissioned in May 2006. The statement, which came from the Minister’s office, said the SADC Tribunal was established to ensure adherence to the SADC Treaty and its subsidiary instruments and to adjudicate upon disputes of members. Following the fire, the Tribunal’s President, Dr Luis Antonio Mundlane, told Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, that he would make arrangements to travel to Windhoek next week to assess the situation. The Turnhalle was built between 1908 and 1909 with a second phase, this time a double storey extension, added to it on the western side. During the German colonial period, the Turnhalle witnessed numerous gymnastic show performances, recreational gymnastics and school training. It also played an important part in the history of SWA both in peace and in war times since 1913. From September 1914 until January 1915 the building was temporarily not used for sporting activities because the Schutztruppe had stored their provisions there and later in WW1 it served as accommodation for the South African Union Troops. “After a legal wrangle in the 1920s as to its ownership (the South Africans had perceived it as seized state property), it was handed back to the Turnverein since it was their private property. “Probably in the late 1920s/early 1930s a stage was added to its eastern section and it could now also be used for theatre performances or bioscope shows.” The building sprung into the international limelight overnight in September 1975, as it became internationally known when representatives of the 11 ethnic groups in the old South West Africa had started to meet there to discuss independence and constitutional progress in the territory. This congress was called the “Turnhalle Conference”. The name of one of the surviving parties, the DTA (Democratic Turnhalle Alliance) lends its name from this very building. As from independence, the Turnhalle was used for international conferences and as seat for the National Council until it got its own building next to the Parliament Buildings (Tintenpalast). – (Additional reporting by Dr Andreas Vogt.)