Singh ‘defied court order’Comment on this story
Durban - Jay Singh instructed the construction foreman of the ill-fated Tongaat Mall to build on despite a high court interim order, secured by the eThekwini Municipality, for work to stop.
The involvement of the controversial Durban businessman dominated the second day of a commission of inquiry into the collapse of the mall that killed two and injured 29 in November.
Foreman Ronnie Pillay testified on Wednesday. He said he had 14 years of experience, but no formal qualifications or training for his job.
He admitted the collapse could have been avoided if the court order had been adhered to.
The mall was being built by Gralio Precast on land owned by Rectangle Property Investments.
Singh’s son Ravi Jagadasan was the sole director of Rectangle Property Investments and also a director of Gralio along with Singh’s former wife, Shireen Annamalai.
The Department of Labour is holding the inquiry, at municipal offices in Tongaat, to determine if negligence led to the accident.
The eThekwini Municipality has said in court papers, filed in the high court, that Rectangle Property had no approved plans for the mall and ignored stop-work notices and a high court interdict obtained in September 2013 to stop work.
The interdict was made final five days before the mall caved in.
Pillay said he was only aware of the interim interdict and not the final order. Asked if he was aware that he was breaking the law by defying the interim order, Pillay said Singh had told him to “finish” and “clean up”.
When questioned further, Pillay said they had not cleaned up, but had continued with construction work.
Although Singh is not listed as a director of Rectangle Property Investments or Gralio Precast, Pillay identified him as his “senior and supervisor” who gave him instructions about how to carry out the work.
Pillay relayed any problems to Singh and he spoke to structural engineer Andre Ballack.
Commissioner Phumudzo Maphaha wanted Singh to testify, but Gralio’s advocate, Saleem Khan, said Singh had not been subpoenaed and would need time to prepare.
One of the problems identified was a sagging slab, which sank 70mm when workers tried to remove its supporting structures. Pillay said he had told Ballack about the “descending slab”.
“He (Ballack) said he would create two beams to hold the sagging and provide additional support.”
Maphaha asked Pillay if the sagging slab had not raised “alarm bells”. Pillay said that only a section of the slab had sagged and it had been propped up.
He believed a possible cause of the collapse was the size of columns which, he said, were not big enough. Pillay said he raised this with Singh, but Singh told him that Ballack had done calculations and “everything was fine”.
Under cross-examination by Ballack’s attorney, Richard Hoal, Pillay conceded that he had no “factual or scientific basis” for his claim about the columns.
Hoal asked Pillay if he was aware that one of the beams, in the area that caved in, had only had “seven steel bars”, but the engineer’s design required 19.
Pillay said he was aware of the requirement, but he had left the steelworks to a subcontractor, Mbuyisa Steel Fixing, and had not checked it.
The commission heard that a representative of Mbuyisa had been subpoenaed but had not turned up.
Hoal said test results showed that some of the concrete on the site was not of “adequate strength” and this could have led to structural problems. Pillay said he was aware of that.
He admitted there was no construction programme and he worked according to “verbal” instructions from Singh.
Brickworks supervisor Prashalen Gounder also testified on Wednesday. He said he had no formal education or training for his position, but had the experience to do his job.
He testified that he was building walls using “Lucky Cement” which was made in Pakistan.
The inquiry continues on Thursday.