Litany of errors at mall

2014-02-13 00:00

WEAK concrete was used, a crucial site diary was missing, the foreman had never seen a construction programme, and the contractor completely ignored a high court order demanding that construction stop, without telling staff they were working illegally.

These were among the nuggets revealed as the commission of inquiry into the collapsed Tongaat mall proceeded yesterday.

The commission was set up by the Labour Department to probe the collapse of a R300-million multi-storey mall being built by Rectangle Property Investments — owned by Durban businessperson Jay Singh’s son Ravi Jagadasan — last year. Two workers were killed in the collapse and 29 were injured.

Site foreman Ronnie Pillay shifted the blame for the collapse to structural design firm Axiom Engineers, claiming their plans, which he followed, were at fault. And he revealed that the site diary, which records the daily running of a construction site, was in the possession of a quantity surveyor only known as “Pinkie” when the mall collapsed. The diary could not be located.

“The size of the columns where the mall collapsed was not big enough. They should have been bigger because in that particular area the columns were carrying added [weight]. I told Singh, who brought up the issue with [Axiom engineer] Andre Ballack. He [Ballack] informed Singh that his calculations meant no change to the columns was necessary,” he said.

Pillay said he had reported that a slab, which later collapsed, had started sagging. But he admitted that he could understand about “90%” of building plans and seldom questioned them even if they were wrong.

Under cross examination by legal counsel for Axiom Engineering Richard Hoal, Pillay admitted knowing that the concrete used on the site had been tested.

“[The tests] show widely different strengths and some show that the concrete is not of sufficient strength. This could have led to the collapse?” asked Hoal. Pillay agreed.

Bricklayer Peshalan Gounden said the architectural designs changed 10 times over three months and that various sources of concrete were used, including some from Singh’s company and an imported Pakistani brand.

Both Gounden and Pillay said they took instructions from Singh.

Legal counsel for the municipality advocate Ian Topping grilled Pillay over why they had continued building despite a court order stopping construction issued on September 29, 2013. Pillay conceded that the mall would not have collapsed if they had heeded the order. He added that he was never informed by his superiors when the final court order was issued on November 14.

The commission sits until tomorrow at the Tongaat municipal building, and then resumes from March 25 to 28, when Singh is expected to testify.

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