The eThekwini Municipality today called a press conference following the collapse of the under construction shopping mall in Tongaat (or oThangathi) last night. One person died and approximately 30 were injured. Below is the press statement issued by major James Nxumalo. It is printed unedited. I have also attached some pictures sent to me last night by my best friend and municipal communications team member Themba Khumalo.
Statement by eThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo
The collapse of a building at a construction site in oThongathi at about 16h00 on the 19/11/2013 has made headlines with a lot of speculation taking centre stage.
After receiving the call from eThekwini Municipality’s Disaster and Emergency Call Centre, the emergency services personnel were dispatched to the scene. The leadership of the Municipality and the KwaZulu-Natal government also swiftly responded by visiting the site to expedite rapid response and support to the victims of this disaster.
We have convened this media briefing to give a detailed background on the actions that have been undertaken by the City to prevent this tragedy and to put to rest all speculations that the regulations of the municipality can be flouted with impunity.
Here are the facts:
No application has ever been made to the City by the current owners, or anyone acting on their behalf, for the approval of the building plans for the construction of the property in question.
The sequence of events is as follows: In November 2006 the City received an application for building plans from the former owners of the land (Strathmore Property Investment Trust).
In January 2007, the City received earthworks plan for approval. These applications were also declined by the City and they lapsed 12 months after they were submitted. Again this was done by the former owners of the property.
The current owners (Rectangle Property Investments) submitted an application for approval of earthworks (not building plans) in February 2013. This application was refused on 13 May 2013.
In March 2013, the City became aware that the property had been extensively excavated and that construction workers had commenced piling for construction. On 8 April 2013, the City wrote to the owners calling on them to cease all building works forthwith and to submit an application in terms of the act. On 8 May 2013, the building inspector visited the site and observed that the owners had not complied with the direction given to them and building works were still conducted on site. Summons for the aforementioned contravention were served on the owner’s representatives on site on the same day. Another inspection of the property was conducted on 24 June 2013 and it was discovered that the owners had still not complied with the directions given to them. The City issued a formal notice of intention to approach the courts with this matter.
On 3 July 2013 another inspection was conducted and again there was no compliance with the directions given. On this day pictures were taken in preparation for the court action. On 4 July 2013 attorneys representing the owners wrote to the City requesting that the matter be held in abeyance for two weeks indicating their intention to oppose any application against the owner.
On 24 July further inspection of the property revealed that despite the request to hold matters in abeyance, construction was continuing unabated. On 31 July 2013 the City brought an urgent application to direct the owners to suspend any further building operations, directing the owners to bring an application for approval of building plan within 30 days. The order was confirmed on 14 November 2013.
As can be seen from the above, the Municipality took all the necessary steps to stop any further continuation of construction on the site but the developer continued without respect for the court orders. Prior to the accident the Municipality had already started a process of obtaining a Contempt Warrant.
Reports received since the incident indicates that 30 people were affected. One person is confirmed dead so far and four sustained serious injuries A further 25 people sustained minor injuries some of them have been released from hospital.
Rescue efforts continued into the night and also resumed this morning.
We can confirm that this morning at about 9H00am, the search and rescue has now been temporarily suspended and the site has been officially handed over to the Department of Labour in line with the law. Search and rescue teams from the municipality and SAPS remain on site should they still be required to intervened in the event of any new discoveries.
In terms of our post disaster requirements, the Municipality has engaged a registered engineer to ascertain the reasons for the collapse. The engineer’s report will also assess the risk of further collapse.
The law will take its course in terms of liability for the loss of life (culpable homicide). This will be pursued by SAPS and the Department of Labour Department. The Municipality will cooperate with all law enforcement to ensure that all parties responsible for violation of the any regulations are brought to book.
We will vigorously continue with our court process to obtain the contempt of order to shut down the site.
We call upon all roleplayers in the built environment to comply with the applicable standards and requirements that govern the building industry. This is critical in avoiding the loss of innocent lives. The City will continue to vigorously pursue and charge culprits who have contravened those laws.
We have noted with concern that since the incident occurred some opportunists are now scavenging on this tragedy as a way of reviving their political fortunes. This behavior is morally reprehensible and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We are all in the period of mourning and this is the time for all of us to unite and support those affected by this unfortunate disaster.