02/04/2014 Durban Witness Sipho Mbuyasa testifying on a collapsed Tongaat Mall, seating next to the interpreter on the left Bheki Cele. PICTURE: SIBUSISO NDLOVU

Durban -

A steel contractor who was employed on the collapsed Tongaat Mall site stuck to his guns on Wednesday, insisting he had done his work correctly, despite allegations that there was a shortage of steel reinforcing in the area which caved in.

Sipho Mbuyisa, who owns the company Mbuyisa Steel Fixing cc, testified at the Tongaat Mall Commission of Inquiry held in the town, that he had a certificate in steel fixing which he obtained after a three-week training course.

Asked by commissioner Phumudzo Maphaha if he thought this was an adequate qualification for his job, Mbuyisa said it was “enough”.

He knew how to read engineers’ steel drawings, had worked for another steel reinforcing company and had been hired by big construction firms, including JT Ross and WBHO.

The mall was being built by Gralio Precast on land owned by Rectangle Property Investments. Businessman Jay Singh’s son, Ravi Jagadasan, is the sole director of Rectangle Property and a director of Gralio along with Singh’s former wife, Shireen Annamalay.

The eThekwini Municipality alleges, in a high court application, that Rectangle Property did not have approved plans to build the mall, and that it ignored “stop work” notices that it issued as well as an interdict which was obtained last September.

The mall partly collapsed last November. Two people died and 29 were injured.

Mbuyisa was questioned extensively about the amount of steel reinforcing his company had used in the collapsed area.

In February, structural engineer Andre Ballack’s attorney, Richard Hoal, told the inquiry that after the collapse they had observed only seven steel bars in a beam which required 19.

Asked about this discrepancy on Wednesday, Mbuyisa was adamant he had followed the steel drawings properly.

“If there were only seven bars this would have been picked up by the engineer who checked my work,” he said.

Maphaha told Mbuyisa when the rubble had been removed after the collapse, there had not been 19 bars.

Mbuyisa replied: “That would shock me. I do not know where those bars went.”

He could not say whether the steel fixing led to the collapse.

He said: “There were no signs on the beams that it might collapse.”

Mbuyisa admitted he had no independent record of his work on the site or any documentation to prove his work had been approved by Ballack.

He also said his contract with Gralio Precast and other health and safety documents had been lost when his bakkie had been stolen in February.

Tando Mhlungu testified he was a formwork supervisor on the site but also admitted he had no formal qualifications for his job.

“I only have a carpentry certificate. I was hired by Gralio after they saw my work at other construction sites and knew I could do the job.”

In February, the commission heard that Singh, who was present at the inquiry on Wednesday, had been the person in charge of the construction of the mall and that site foreman Ronnie Pillay had taken instructions directly from him.

Pillay also told the commission Singh had told him to “finish up” on the site after the municipality obtained an interim court order to stop work.

The commission continues on Thursday.


The Mercury