Mall contractor under fire for 'shoddy' work

2013-11-20 09:16
Tongaat roof collapse. (Rajesh Jantilal, AFP)

Tongaat roof collapse. (Rajesh Jantilal, AFP)

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Tongaat mall collapse aftermath

2013-11-20 08:44

A construction site in Tongaat in KZN has collapsed, killing 1 person and injuring at least 29 others. Watch this footage taken just after the collapse.WATCH

Durban - The Tongaat mall that collapsed on Tuesday - trapping some 50 workers - is linked to a high-flying and controversial family already under fire in an official report for their companies’ “shoddy” building standards.

The mall, which is still being built, collapsed at around 16:00 on Tuesday. A three-storey section, the size of half a soccer field, pancaked while supports were being removed, according to eyewitnesses.

The Witness has established that the mall 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.

'Shoddy'

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 over R500m 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 journalists.

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 e.tv on Tuesday 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.

'I was falling'

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

At least one person has been confirmed dead, and another 29 were rescued. Of these, 28 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 onto another platform,” said Pillay.

Fiona Moonean, who lives directly behind the collapsed section, which was the car-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 hard-to-access foot of the collapse was one of crowded chaos: dozens of police, firefighters and rescuers stood on the stones between twin railway tracks.

Scaffolding removed 'way too soon'

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, told The Witness he had lodged complaints about the construction of the mall 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 brick-layer 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?”

On Tuesday, Gralio labourers screamed at Witness reporters, who had inadvertently walked to the edge of the crumbled slab where Ngomane had stood: “Get away; there is nothing beneath there! It can collapse again!” they cried.

- Full report on The Witness

- Are you there? Send us your eyewitness accounts and photos.

Read more on:    durban  |  tongaat mall collapse

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