Johannesburg - The builders blamed it on the earthquake, but the authorities are pointing to illegal building.
Now the inquiry into the disastrous construction collapse at a mansion in the Meyersdal Eco-Estate will look into why there were apparently no legal building plans for the extension that collapsed, and what exactly the contractors were doing.
Seven people died and eight were injured - some critically - when a section of an extension caved in while the men were working inside the house on Monday morning.
It took hours to extract survivors and bodies, and rescue efforts were hampered by confusion over the exact number of people on the site. The names of the dead have not been released yet.
The registered homeowner, Gregory Cumming, and contractors Romicon Construction did not respond to requests for comment.
The workers’ supervisor on the site, who gave his name only as Abel, said the earth tremor of two weeks ago could have left the structure unstable.
“We were renovating the house and have been working on it since February. We never built it and were not even extending it. We were just making it new, repainting it,” he said.
“The guys were busy plastering the wall and others were painting it when it collapsed…
I think the earthquake of the other day must have caused this; there is no way those pillars could just fall down.
“The owner was in shock and was crying. He could not understand what happened.”
The Department of Labour’s deputy director-general for inspection and enforcement services, Thobile Lamati, said he could not speculate on causes of the collapse.
There are approved plans for the main house, but not for the extensions apparently carried out by the current owner.
“That’s the part that the municipality say they don’t have the plans for, and that’s the part that collapsed. The slab caved in while there were people working under it,” Lamati said.
There’s also confusion over what exactly the team were doing.
“You get conflicting stories. Some people say they were doing construction work, others say they were doing painting. It depends on who you speak to,” Lamati added.
“We will get to the bottom of it.”
Questions might be raised about whether other properties in the estate also dodged the building laws. “We will look into that. We will speak to the body corporate and find out what the rules are,” Lamati said.
Ekurhuleni mayoral committee member for community safety Mthuthuzeli Siboza confirmed that there were no plans for the extension filed with the metro, and that the metro would check up on plans for other properties in the estate.
“We instructed our guys to do that, to see the extent of the problem there,” Siboza said.
Ekurhuleni metro spokesman Themba Gadebe called the failure to file plans “irresponsible”.
Gadebe also dismissed claims that the team were just painting.
“Twenty-six people cannot be painting. I’ve been there personally. They were extending the house,” he said.
“It was a double-storey extension.”
Lamati said they would look at whether the material used had been of low quality, or whether the builders did not follow the specifications as per design, resulting in the integrity of the structure being compromised.
Police opened an inquest docket.
Lamati said any decision on prosecution would be taken by the National Prosecuting Authority.
He referred to previous deaths in big projects, where people got off with paying penalties and said they would prefer to see stronger action taken.
Lamati urged builders and owners to do things the legal way.
“Cheap is not really cheap because you are bound to have some of these things happen. The law is clear about building regulations,” he said.