Botswana High Court Judge Escapes Collapsing Ceiling

By Greg Leebonye & Isaiah Morewgae/ Mnegi LOBATSE – Witnesses say it was a miracle nobody was hurt late Monday morning when the entire ceiling of a courtroom in Lobatse collapsed during trial. The incident happened when Justice Leatile Dambe’s court was in session.

High court ceiling

High court ceiling

“It was during roll call that we heard this noise like someone was walking on the roof. A court officer went to look out through the window to see if there was anybody on the roof but there was no one. Five minutes later, a portion of the ceiling slid down, then there was this amazing creaking, groaning noise and the whole ceiling came tumbling down,” Seranne Junner, a lawyer with Boko and Associates told Mmegi. The speed with which everyone reacted could be what averted disaster. “It was really frightening. As the ceiling creaked, a piece of the panelling landed on Justice Dambe’s desk. She quickly moved her chair back and ducked into her chambers. She later came back to check if everybody was ok,” she said.

Then, perhaps instinctively, two male lawyers put up their hands to hold back the rest of the ceiling as other people ran for their lives. There were sounds of breaking fluorescent bulbs. Junner was the only one who got ‘slightly injured’.

“Considering that the entire ceiling came down, it could have been worse. A portion of the ceiling fell on my head. I have a little bump and a strained neck,” she said.

A Mmegi team that visited the courtroom immediately after the incident found a scene of chaos and disorder.Where the judge, the interpreters, lawyers and the rest of the people in the court would have been sitting or standing was now occupied by huge slabs of ceiling. Live electric cables hung dangerously from the roof. Dambe had to proceed with the matter she was hearing in chambers. It is not clear how she will hear cases on Friday.  The ceiling collapse happened barely two years after a local company won a P1,534,000 tender for the “Supply, Delivery, Erection and Commissioning of Pre-fabricated Court Accommodation and Associated Externals Works”.The building, whose ceiling collapsed, is one of several that the company worked on.

Acting Registrar and Master of the High Court, Michael Motlhabi said they have already notified the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services (DBES) to assess the situation and give them a report. Motlhabi said the cave-in came as a shock. “We have called DBES to assess the situation and tell us the status of these court to ensure there isn’t a repeat of what happened today,” he said.

Dambe was unavailable for comment at the time of going for press.