Suicide ‘linked to dispute’
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The wife of a Durban sub-contractor believes he committed suicide after waiting almost two years to be paid for work he did at the R600 million Fairmont Zimbali Hotel and Resort.
The finding of a note in Gavin Marshall’s car, on which he had written an anguished message, led his wife, Sharene, to believe his suicide was linked to his struggle to get payment from developer IFA Hotels and Resorts, which is in dispute with main contractor Liviero – both internationally renowned companies.
But the issue has dragged on for nearly two years, and a court date has yet to be set.
The contractors are also trying to get their money from Liviero through arbitration, but a date has yet to be set for the arbitration, which could then take up to six months.
Liviero has argued it cannot pay the sub-contractors because the money it was paid out by IFA is being used as security in their legal wrangle.
It was such a situation which broke her husband, bankrupted his business and drove him to end his life, said Sharene.
This would have been his, and the other sub-contractors, second Christmas without payment for the work carried out at the Zimbali development.
Sharene said her husband was not able to take on other jobs since then because he did not have the money to do so. A predicament, she says, many of the other sub-contractors are also currently in.
The morning of November 23, the day he died, she said Marshall was not morbid, neither did he say a sad farewell before leaving for a meeting with Wessel Witthuhn, the president of IFA Hotels & Resorts Africa and Indian Ocean IFA, to beg for payment for his work.
They had reached a stage where they were both living off her salary.
Marshall owned Master Sundecks and worked for both Liviero and Stefcon, a contractor hired to work on the resort’s beach club and heritage site, and later for IFA when Liviero walked off the site in August 2009 and IFA approached the sub-contractors directly to continue working.
Later that day Sharene was alarmed when Marshall switched off his cellphone, which he never normally did. That afternoon she was filling in a missing person’s report at the Durban North Police Station, when she heard news over the police radio of an abandoned bakkie and a man fitting her husband’s description, found hanging from a tree.
When the police asked her what her husband was wearing at the time he disappeared, it confirmed her fears.
The police found a note in his car and a newspaper article published in July this year that dealt with the issue of the Zimbali development and the sub-contractors not being paid by Liviero, Stefcon and IFA.
Just above this article was a handwritten note which read “F**k you Wessel Witthun”. This note led his widow to firmly believe that the outcome of her husband’s meeting that morning with Witthun resulted in his suicide.
“He lived for his family and put his blood, sweat and tears into his work for the hotel. He was determined to finish the project and encouraged other sub-contractors to help. Our son, Clayton, also helped him when he came down on a six-week holiday from the UK,” she said.
This July newspaper article said Marshall was not paid because of defective work, which he is quoted as denying, saying weddings and high profile parties were held at the hotel with people being entertained on the decks he built.
His wife said he had completed big jobs before and never had any comebacks.
Sub-contractors are at the bottom end of the construction industry hierarchy and often struggle to get their money from the companies which hired them.
Sub-contractors have said the so-called snag list, which details the alleged defective work on the site, is often used as a delaying tactic for non-payment.
Soon after Marshall’s death, Sharene said IFA promised to pay her the money owed, but after an e-mail correspondence from her attorney there has since been no response.
IFA spokesman Craig Clay-Smith said neither the company nor Witthun could comment on the note found in Marshall’s car because without factual evidence it is considered a rumour as they are not privy to the police investigation.
Last Tuesday IFA paid R250 000 into Stefcon’s account to be paid out to Marshall’s family.
They are still awaiting confirmation of the transfer and Stefcon are still awaiting confirmation of the deposit.
IFA said it was not in a position nor had any obligation to pay Master Sundecks on behalf of Stefcon, where their contract lies.
The developer has also placed the issue of non-payment of sub-contractors squarely on Liviero’s shoulders, saying they are not the “bad guys” because they have paid Liviero and many of the sub-contractors who helped complete the hotel after Liviero left claiming IFA did not pay them.
When IFA approached some of the sub-contractors to help complete the hotel, they said they could not because they did not have the funds.
IFA agreed to advance the sub-contractors a percentage of the amount they were owed by Liviero on condition that they refund this amount, R15 million, once Liviero paid them.
According to their records, IFA does not believe that they owe Master Sundecks any money currently, except for an anticipated amount of about R9 000 on final completion of the work done at the hotel.
IFA said they advanced Master Sundecks just more than R340 000, a percentage of the amount he was owed by Liviero which IFA said was still to be refunded to them because it had already paid Liviero for that work.
According to IFA, all sub-contractors who are due any payments directly from them, excluding that already paid to Liviero, would be paid in terms of their contracts upon completion of snagging and certification.
The legal wrangle between IFA and Liviero over which party breached the contract and therefore who owes whom began in 2010 when the Pietermaritzburg High Court instructed IFA to pay Liviero R18m, the amount for the final period of work completed on the hotel.
IFA lodged a counter-claim of R96m in damages and said the court separated these two matters and ordered Liviero to put up an amount as counter security.
“They opted to use the R18m. This is an international company that can afford to pay the sub-contractors their money and still put up security in this court matter,” IFA claimed.
Richard Hoal of Cox Yeats Attorneys is representing a number of the sub-contractors who are claiming their money from Liviero. Marshall was one of his clients.
The sub-contractors are claiming Liviero was paid for the work and want their money owed.
Liviero is claiming they have not actually been paid the R18m because they had to put up this amount as counter security in their wrangle with IFA.