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Harsh words for Tongaat Mall builders

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Copy of NM TONGAAT 287 (42388128)

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From left: Gralio's legal adviser Kissoon Sing, Advocate Saleem Khan, Rob Young, Jay Singh, Omprakash Ramlakhan and Rajan Naidoo. PICTURE: SIBUSISO NDLOVU

Durban - The company building the ill-fated Tongaat Mall outside Durban did not operate in good faith, a commission of inquiry suggested on Friday.

Commission chairman Phumudzo Maphaha cited destroyed evidence, a lack of documentation, and unauthorised testing of concrete.

“Somebody needs to give me an explanation why you shift the goalposts from what we have agreed,” he told Gralio Precast (Pty) Ltd's lawyer Saleem Khan in Tongaat.

Maphaha heads a three-man commission investigating the collapse of the mall on November 19 last year. Two people were killed and 29 injured.

It emerged on Friday that two columns supporting the concrete slab that collapsed were destroyed at the site by a pneumatic drill (commonly known as a woodpecker) at the end of April.

“The woodpecker has flattened some of the things we wanted to examine,” said Maphaha.

It also emerged that Gralio had not provided all the documentation the commission had asked for.

“I'm starting to see a trend. I request a full report. I get seven pages instead of 19 pages,” said Maphaha.

Among the documents requested were the results of tests carried by the firm Contest to determine the strength of the concrete used at the mall.

Gralio gave the commission seven pages, but Contest supplied an additional 12. Maphaha pointed out that Gralio only provided the best test results.

The commission heard earlier in the week that the concrete taken from the slabs required a strength of 30 megapascals (MPa).

Maphaha said Gralio only provided the results that were above 30 MPa.

Some results were as low as nine MPa Ä only strong enough to be the plaster on internal walls.

“You are being economical in all the information you bring,” Maphaha told Khan.

Khan said he could not account for the discrepancies but would take instruction from his clients.

On Thursday, the commission heard that 29 samples of concrete were given to Gralio's representatives.

Sixteen of these were tested by Beton-Lab CC in Maphaha's presence.

Khan said the other 13 were tested by the firm Concrete Testing, but not in the presence of a member the commission.

These samples, or “cores”, were taken from supporting columns and beams of the mall's debris earlier this year.

On Thursday, Maphaha warned Khan that he would have to rule that evidence had been destroyed.

On Friday, he said Khan handed in Concrete Testing's report which had the results of tests taken from 16 samples, instead of 13.

“Where do the extra three results come from? Somebody has to give me answers. This report has got three samples which were never given,” he said.

He asked Khan why Concrete Testing had not told the commission of its test.

When it first sat earlier this year, Maphaha ruled that all testing had to be done in the presence of a member of the commission Ä and that access to the building site was only allowed with permission from the commission.

Gralio had been informed of this in writing.

Khan said he could not explain the results from Concrete Testing, and it should be called before the commission to explain itself.

Maphaha refused to accept the Concrete Testing report as evidence. He would only make a ruling on its acceptability once one of the company's representatives had been questioned.

Earlier this week, the commission heard that Gralio was fined twice by eThekwini metro municipality's law enforcement officer Lungiswa Cemane.

The fines were for failing to submit building plans and continuing construction despite being served notices to stop.

Gralio is operated by Durban businessman Jay Singh.

The Tongaat Mall development was owned by a company called Rectangle Property Investments CC. Singh's son is the sole member of the close corporation.

Singh's other company, Woodglaze, was accused of fraudulently obtaining R236 million from the Social Housing Regulatory Authority by setting up a social housing company, Moko Rental Housing Project, to obtain funds to buy flats from itself.

Sapa


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