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Tongaat mall photo yields clues

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tongaat mall july 9

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A commission of inquiry into the deadly collapse of the partly-built Tongaat Mall is currently sitting.

Durban - An aerial photograph of the partly collapsed Tongaat Mall, north of Durban, contained some “interesting clues” about why it had collapsed.

Now the search is on to find the photographer.

Phumudzo Maphaha, the presiding officer of the labour department-convened commission of inquiry, said on Friday it would be “very good” to know who took the photograph.

The collapse claimed the lives of two workers, Zakithi Nxumalo and Zwelibanzi Masuku, and injured 29 others.

The photograph shows the extent of two collapsed portions of the partly built mall and was produced in a report by independent structural engineer Gons Poonan, who was called in by the eThekwini municipality in the wake of the tragedy.

Poonan said he was unable to say who had taken the photograph as it had just landed on his desk and no one else at the commission was able to throw light on who exactly had taken the picture.

Sitting with two co-presiding officers on the third and final day of the current session of the inquiry, Maphaha said the hearing “will change how we do business in future for the better.

“All the stakeholders are learning… and this is part of our contribution in preventing a recurrence of this incident in the country.”

The focus this week has been on three areas of concern and the possible triggers for the collapse, identified by various engineers as beam number seven and columns 243 and 219.

Earlier this week, independent engineer Ed Weakley said the beam had not been cast in a single pouring and since there was a joint, it could break at this point of weakness.

Column 243, a critical column, was close to its load-carrying capacity and column 319 had a single pile in the foundations when, in his view, there should have been three piles.

Advocate Saleem Khan, for Gralio Precast, the contractor and Rectangle Property Investments, the owners, told Poonan that Weakley had testified that he could not say with certainty where the trigger for the collapse was.

“I agree,” Poonan replied.

Poonan said while he had no criticism of the beam design, it had not been constructed in accordance with the construction drawing.

As for column 243, which he said was in the upper limits of “slender”, it was inadequately designed for its purpose and had not been constructed to the design specifications in terms of its strength.

The under-design of this column resulted in it collapsing.

Asked what he would have done, he said he would have made it bigger.

Column 319, with its single pile, would also have failed, he said.

The inquiry heard there were seven reinforcing rods in the beam instead of the required 19, but only six of them had been cast in concrete.

With six bars, the beam would not stand the construction load and it was going to fail, Poonan said.

Rob Young, the engineer for Gralio Precast, said the only thing that the various engineers were arguing about was whether the part of the site under investigation was braced.

Lawyer Richard Hoal, for the design engineer Andre Ballack, said he would be leading evidence at a later session that the structure was braced, which he said in a later interview would make it more stable, meaning that column 243 was adequate to take the load.

Another expert engineer, Dr Piet Pretorius, was working on the bracing issue and would be the first witness to be called when the hearing resumes on July 21.

Sapa


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