Team to probe mall collapse

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Copy of ND Tongaat mall presiding officer (39269246) INLSA Tongaat Mall inquiry presiding officer Phumudzo Maphaha.

Durban - A four-man commission of inquiry is set to probe the circumstances of the deadly structural collapse of the R208 million Tongaat Mall.

The national Department of Labour said on Tuesday the commission was expected to begin a formal hearing next month. It would investigate concerns raised and the series of events that led to the mall collapse in November.

The department’s occupational health and safety manager, Phumudzo Maphaha, who will head the commission, declined to comment on details of the hearing, but said in a statement that 20 to 50 witnesses were expected to be called.

The inquiry, which is open to the media, has been set down for two weeks next month.

Tibor Szana, the department’s acting deputy director-general, told the Daily News the inquiry would run just like a court case, with Maphaha as the presiding officer asking the witnesses questions. The parties would be entitled to have legal representatives present to cross-examine the witnesses.

The department is conducting the formal inquiry in terms of section 32 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to probe allegations of negligence that results in occupational injuries and death of workers.

Two workers – Zakithi Nxumalo and Zwelibanzi Masuku – died in the collapse and 29 were injured.

The developer of the mall, Rectangle Property Investment, was last month served with contempt of court papers by the eThekwini Municipality.

The company is run by controversial Durban businessman Jay Singh’s son, Ravi Jagadasan, who had indicated that they intended opposing the contempt application, which would be heard next month in the Durban High Court.

The department said it would reveal the inquiry start date once the commission received all outstanding reports.

According to the department’s press statement, the commission would, once the hearings are complete, prepare a report of its findings and recommendations which will be sent to Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, the department’s chief inspector, Thobile Lamati, and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions for their consideration.

Maphaha said the members of the commission had already visited and assessed the site – and there were a number of issues the commission would pursue with the contractors during the hearings.

Szana said that all the witnesses would have to be subpoenaed to testify and would also be asked, if needed, to provide documentation such as plans and photographs.

The hearings are to be held at the municipal offices in oThongathi and the commission is expected to complete its work within six months.

Szana said the report would probably be compiled after the six months. Maphaha could take a further 90 days to finalise it. The report would not be sent to the police, who had a different mandate to that of the department, which is concerned about the health and safety side.

The police are investigating two counts of culpable homicide.

“After the inquiry, if there’s a recommendation for prosecution by the commission, the National Prosecuting Authority would make the final decision on whether or not to go ahead…,” said Szana.

When asked about the progress of their investigation and whether the commission’s report would be considered as evidence for the police, provincial police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said their culpable homicide docket was still an active investigation and referred the Daily News to the labour department for enquiries.

Rectangle Property Investment had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

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