Meyersdal house collapse matter heads to court

2014-10-30 15:46

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Pretoria - The labour department inquiry into the partial collapse of an Alberton house in August will no longer question additional witnesses, inquiry chairperson Phumudzo Maphaha said on Thursday.

"In light of the proceedings from yesterday [Wednesday] I have taken a decision about the inquiry. Some are worried that 'do inquiries go like this?' Yes they do and I like it. It makes my work easier," Maphaha said in Pretoria.

He was scheduled to question Gregory Cumming - the owner of the luxury house that collapsed killing seven construction workers.

"We are zooming into what caused the collapse. I don't have evidence that can link the client [Cumming] to the cause of the collapse," said Maphaha.

"I have a number of contraventions that I have identified since yesterday [Wednesday] which are against the contractor and the engineer."

He said he would use the evidence gathered to prepare a report to the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP).

"I am going to compile a report based on the findings on site, plans that we have, and evidence which we have led.

"We will be going to court as government with the contractor and the [house] designer," said Maphaha.

He instructed Cumming to provide affidavits and evidence showing that he had hired the contractor and the building designer.

The documents were required within 14 days and the inquiry would file its recommendations to the NDPP within 60 days.

The building designer Ranjan Galal on Thursday refused to answer questions from Maphaha.

"My client has not been afforded his procedural rights. He has been called to deal with technical engineering issues, he has been called to this inquiry without proper opportunity to prepare," said Galal's attorney Robert Krombrein.

"He has not received an engineering report or [never had] an opportunity to consider what will be put to him. That is substantially and procedurally unfair. He has the right to remain silent not to incriminate himself."

Maphaha went on to ask numerous questions but Galal's answer was consistent: "I am exercising my right to remain silent and my right against self-incrimination. I, therefore, decline to answer the question."

Designer remains mum

At one point Galal said only it was not his design which caused the collapse. He refused to explain.

Seven workers died and nine were injured when part of the house in the Meyersdal Eco Estate, near Alberton on the East Rand, collapsed on 18 August.

On Wednesday, building contractor Errol Romburgh refused to answer questions at the inquiry.

Despite repeated attempts by Maphaha, Romburgh stuck to his guns.

"Mr Romburgh, were you the contractor involved in the collapse that we are holding an inquiry about?" Maphaha asked.

"On legal advice from my counsel I have been advised that I should exercise my constitutional right and not answer any questions at this stage," Romburgh responded.

Maphaha said the law made it obligatory for the contractor to answer, except questions that might incriminate him.

"Do you find it incriminating to answer that question?" asked Maphaha.

At that stage, Romburg's lawyer Piet Pistorius intervened.

"With the greatest respect, I must object to the commissioner directing this question to the witness. He is a lay person. He has been advised of his rights," said Pistorius.

"The commissioner cannot put to a layperson whether he thinks he is incriminating himself or not. That is a decision that has been made upon counsel's advice."

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