Collapsed Tongaat building linked to controversial businessman, high-living son

2013-11-20 11:42

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The Tongaat shopping centre that collapsed yesterday – trapping some 50 workers in a major tragedy – is linked to a high-flying and controversial family already under fire in an official report for their companies’ “shoddy” building standards.

The centre, which is still being built, collapsed at around 4pm yesterday. A three-storey section of the half-built Tongaat shopping centre – the size of half a soccer field – pancaked while supports were being removed, according to eyewitnesses.

The Witness has established that the shopping centre is connected to controversial businessman Daniel “Jay” Singh and Rectangle Property Investments, in which his son, the high-living Ravi Jagadasan, is the remaining sole director.

Last week, The Witness revealed that two of Singh’s housing developments – Burbreeze and Hammonds Farm – were slated in a recent city investigation, the Manase Report, for “shoddy” building standards and how the family had scored more than R500 million in city contracts.

Jay Singh and his family trust were also directors of Rectangle Investments until earlier this year.

Neither Singh nor his son could be contacted for comment. A person answering their phones said they were “on site” and cut the call when they realised they were speaking to reporters.

Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said the mayor of eThekwini had told him earlier of his concern over the tragedy as the city was involved in a court case involving the owner of the property.

eThekwini Deputy Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala, speaking to last night, said the municipality had obtained a court interdict last month to prevent construction going on at the site.

Shabalala claimed she did not know the name of the company.

Meanwhile, worker Ronnie Pillay described how he had to dive for his life from a falling slab as the centre collapsed.

Next to the muddy spot where the projects manager stood shaking, 50 of his colleagues and labourers lay trapped beneath a mountain of concrete rubble and twisted scaffolding, as dog units and rescue workers struggled to get to them.

Two people have been confirmed dead, with another 29 rescued – either lightly or moderately injured.

The Witness established that 28 of these had been standing on the top floor of the structure, and that only one man – whose name was given as Themba Andile – was dragged from beneath the rubble.

Pastor Leon Soobramoney, a volunteer rescue worker from Tongaat, said: “Only the top part of his head was visible when we found him but he was awake. We dragged him out and he was taken by helicopter.

“We are now praying, Lord don’t let it rain, we cannot fight two fights tonight.”

Standing on at the edge of the top floor of the structure, Pillay, who works for Gralio Precast, also linked to Singh, said he dived into an intermediate floor as the slab beneath his feet suddenly fell.

“I was falling, I dove underneath on to another platform,” said Pillay.

Fiona Moonean, who lives directly behind the collapsed section, which was the parking section, said she was washing dishes facing the huge building when it collapsed.

“They had been removing scaffolding all morning. I heard them banging at the poles, and then there was a tremendous sound. I watched the centre of the building collapse, with dust all around. I felt it in my stomach. I heard screaming in Zulu,” she said.

The scene at the foot of the collapse, which was difficult to access, was one of crowded chaos: dozens of police, firefighters and rescue workers stood on the stones between twin railway tracks.

Another contractor, who asked not be named for fear of reprisal, alleged that while the materials were of a good quality the scaffolding was removed “way too soon”.

Steven Naidoo, a Cope PR councillor with eThekwini municipality, said he had lodged complaints about the construction of the shopping centre to the head of town planning.

“This is a tragedy, but unfortunately it was coming. It was built too fast and in a haphazard, slipshod way,” he alleged.

“We were very concerned about the mall, even the community were angry about it. I challenged it just two weeks ago, demanding to see proper plans, but none were produced. There must be an investigation.”

Amos Ngomane (35), a bricklayer from Mozambique, said the ground broke and fell just a metre from the scaffold he was standing on, but that his female friend Zakithi Nxumalo, a young mother of one, had been working beneath.

“I fear she could never have made it alive,” said an emotional Ngomane. “What must I make of my luck?”

- The Witness

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