Mall concrete too weak

2014-06-05 00:00

SOME of the concrete used in the construction of the disastrous Tongaat Mall was not even strong enough to be a household brick.

And developers were made aware nearly six months earlier that the concrete being used was sub-standard.

But despite these findings, as well as repeated attempts by the eThekwini Metro to close the site for failing to have building permission, embattled Durban developer Jay Singh continued to build until the mall came crashing down in November 2013. Scores of workers were injured and two people were killed.

However, the damning concrete strength evidence given before yesterday’s commission of inquiry into the collapsed Tongaat Mall may be discredited altogether as it may not have met the testing requirements of the South African Bureau of Standards.

And in a new twist Gralio Precast, which contracted Contest Concrete Technology Services to test its concrete, is now questioning whether Contest ever communicated the results to Gralio in the first place while the mall’s embattled engineer Andre Ballack claimed he never saw the results either.

Contest laboratory manager Rod Raw told the commission he had never seen concrete strength results like this before.

The company completed several strength tests between June and October 2013, predominately on concrete batched by Gralio.

According to the commission, the concrete strength should have been no weaker than 30 MPa (a unit used to measure pressure) but Gralio’s tested concrete hovered between nine to 18 MPa.

A household brick should be 14 MPa.

“Generally you have a pretty standard curve but these type of results I have not seen before. In my opinion the design engineers would have designed the structure to accommodate 30 MPa. This weakness could create a structural problem. It was a surprise to me that the results kept on coming through like this. I would have thought action would have been taken to rectify it. It was the understanding that Gralio would interpret the results and had the competency to do so considering they were taking on a project of this size,” said Raw.

He said reasons for the weak concrete varied from poor compaction, poor mixing, insufficient cement in the mix and too much water.

The findings openly disturbed commission chairperson Phumudzo Maphaha. “This is scary. The concrete failed. This to me is a catastrophe. This [evidence] brings us closer to the reasons why this building collapsed. This is like mixing sand with water. Somebody with eyes should have realised the mall would not make it,” said Maphaha.

Gralio’s appointed advocate, Saleem Khan, discredited the test results, stating they had not been done according to SABS requirements. Khan demanded the qualifications of each of the Contest laboratory employees.

He also challenged Raw for failing to alert Gralio about the test results.

“A man of your experience could have alerted Gralio. A plausible reason why you didn’t would be that you had never attempted to view the results until being called as a witness,” said Khan.

Khan was not convinced that Contest had not told Ballack, stating this should have been common practise.

If the SABS error stands, it is just one of many mishaps uncovered by the inquiry being led by the Department of Labour ranging from poor safety tests, a lack of clear leadership on the construction site, unqualified personnel and no oversight.

Both Ballack and Singh have consistently maintained, through their counsel, that they are innocent but have blamed each other for the collapse. They are expected to take to the stand in the next few days.

And Singh’s legal team continued to maintain that Gralio was legally entitled to build the mall even though the municipality has no evidence that the company submitted building plans or that plans had been approved.

The commission continues today until June 11. The commission began in February and is likely to end in August.


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