Council must be probed over Tongaat mall collapse

By Time of article published Nov 21, 2013

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The collapse of a shopping mall under construction in Tongaat, which caused the death of one worker and injuries to 29 others, is an outrage. This is so not only because of the tragic consequences of the collapse but because the local authorities, in their own version of events, had given Gralio Construction at least three warnings to stop building at the site prior to its collapse.

eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo said yesterday that a notice to stop construction had been issued four months ago but the city had been forced to go to court because Gralio ignored the order. The city received an order unopposed on November 14.

This raises serious questions about the conduct of the eThekwini metro, particularly as it was well aware of Gralio’s tendency to ignore orders and yet it failed to ensure the enforcement of the court order. The municipality must surely share some culpability for this tragic event.

Disconcerting but unconfirmed reports about the relationship between the owner of the construction firm and the ANC-controlled council add to the unease about what was allowed to happen in Tongaat.

There have been reports that the owner of the construction company was a benefactor of the ANC, had previously been convicted of bribing a council employee to overlook shoddy workmanship and only a few months ago was awarded an extension to a multimillion-rand affordable housing project despite alleged complaints by some recipients of these houses that the walls could be pushed over with their hands.

The Labour Department has taken over control of the construction site for an investigation into the causes of the accident. However, there appears to be a need for a wider investigation that also delves into the relationship between the construction firm’s owner and council officials, particularly as it appears that the firm and its owner should have been deregistered by the Construction Industry Development Board because of the bribery conviction and shoddy workmanship on other sites.

Union federations

The two leading union federations, Cosatu and the Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa), are like chalk and cheese.

Fedusa these days is acting ambassadorial, having meetings with rating agencies in order to convince them not to further downgrade South Africa. Yesterday it met Fitch, at the agency’s request, and has previously met with Standard & Poor’s.

Dennis George, the general secretary of Fedusa, said: “We had a fruitful conversation with Fitch and we trust this engagement will lead to an improved view on the investment grading of South Africa as an emerging economy.”

Contrast this with the bloodletting in Cosatu over the suspension of general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Nine trade unions, led by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), are in a fully fledged war with eight other Cosatu affiliates, led by the National Union of Mineworkers, and S’dumo Dlamini, the president. Numsa and Co are calling for a special congress to discuss the issue and vote for the national office bearers. Dlamini and Co will have none of that.

Dlamini, in his opening remarks at the meeting of the labour federation’s central executive committee on Monday, confirmed the existence of the war.

“Drums of war are being beaten throughout the night, mobilising comrades to war, financial resources have been mobilised for this, we are told. Journalists are being approached with envelopes, given stories to paint this or that leader to plant a seed of doubt to these leaders and put into question their credibility.”

He said there was a commitment to a war to remove some individuals who had been defined as enemies because they sat on the national executive committee of the ANC and the central committee of the SACP. Comrades, we urge: “Ayihlale phansi ibamb’umthetho”, or “Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war, war!”

Branding

Coca-Cola has swapped its brand for people’s own names and got everyone in a tizzy. It is possible to buy a can or bottle of Coca-Cola with your name on it or harass a storekeeper for one. A friend bought six bottles of Coke with names of her family members, took a picture and posted it on Facebook and her update went viral.

The world of advertising has never been this personal and it is also taking another direction with a fairly new concept known as debranding.

Coca-Cola’s president in South Africa, Therese Gearhart, says: “We’re swapping our brand name with yours. The campaign features 600 of the country’s most popular names and, in addition, Coke vending machines will be on so that consumers can personalise their very own Coca-Cola cans.” How is that for owning a brand?

According to Lucy Fisher of Brand Union, Coca-Cola has already replaced its brand name with 150 of Britain’s most popular names. It is believed that the debranding concept has set a trend for a more “silent” or “quite” branding concept as an antidote to the busy and frequently loudly branded world.

Fisher also points out that consumers are growing weary of the “noise” made by brands in the marketplace.

With its powerful brand, Coca-Cola can afford to silence its brand in exchange for local names, and the same goes for brands such as Starbucks in the US. According to Fisher, Starbucks has reduced its branding and made its stores more local and approachable. What these two brands have in common is that they are two of the most early recognisable marks in the world.

The debranding strategy can also work to overcome prejudice by encouraging people to listen to what is being said rather than who is saying it. Fisher says it is important to bear in mind that a logo does not equal the brand, in other words Coca-Cola will remain a powerful brand with or without people’s names.

Edited by Banele Ginindza. With contributions from Roy Cokayne, Wiseman Khuzwayo and Nompumelelo Magwaza.

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