Trigger for mall collapse key to inquiry

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Copy of ND Inquiry7 (43164855) DAILY NEWS On a site inspection in the Tongaat Mall collapse inquiry are, front, from left: site foreman Ronnie Pillay, and Durban businessman Jay Singh and his attorney, Arvind Kissoon Singh. Photo: Gcina Ndwalane

Durban - Whether it was the collapse of beams or of two columns that triggered the Tongaat Mall disaster has emerged as being among the key questions at the commission of inquiry.

Yesterday, the Department of Labour’s Lenny Samuels, who is co-chairman of the commission, said the inquiry was looking at the columns and beams referred to in earlier testimony.

The weight of these structures and the quality of the cement was also the subject of investigation.

The inquiry’s commissioner, Phumudzo Maphaha, said three possible causes for the collapse had been identified, but he did not elaborate as the commission and the engineers set out for a site inspection on Wednesday.

The mall collapsed in November, killing two workers and injuring 29.

The R208-million project was being developed by Rectangle Property Investment and the contractor was Gralio Precast.

Both companies are linked to controversial Durban businessman Jay Singh.

Singh’s son, Ravi Jagadasan, is the sole director of Rectangle Properties.

Jagadasan and Singh’s former wife, Shireen Annamalay, are the listed as Gralio’s directors.

Workers’ testimony during the inquiry referred to Singh as the “supervisor” who issued the instructions on the project.

A number of engineers, including independent engineers and those contracted to Gralio, were due to start testifying on Wednesday.

However, an on-site inspection took place instead at the suggestion of Gralio’s engineer, Rob Young.

Advocate Saleem Khan, representing Gralio and Rectangle Property Investments, said further investigation at the site would reduce the issues and curtail the time the commission needed.

Singh was present during on Wednesday’s inspection.

Media were allowed to attend, but were prevented from walking through the collapsed section with the rest of the group.

The engineers met last week to compile reports on the collapse.

Following the on-site inspection, they were expected to meet again and make calculations based on fresh information received on Wednesday, to update their reports.

They met again on Wednesday afternoon.

The engineer for the insurers, Ed Weakley, is expected to testify on Thursday.

Earlier in the inquiry, Richard Hoal, attorney for structural engineer Andre Ballack, said one of the beams that collapsed had only seven steel bars instead of the engineer’s design requirement of 19.

Foreman Ronnie Pillay had testified that the columns in the section that caved in were not big enough.

He said part of a slab to the right of the collapsed area had sagged 70mm.

During its last sitting last month, the commission heard that Roderick Raw, the laboratory manager at Contest, a Durban concrete testing company, had carried out a series of tests on the structure before it collapsed.

Many of the tests found that some of the concrete used was less than a third of the required standard strength of 30 megapascals (mPa).

The inquiry continues on Thursday.

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