Metro considers forced demolition of Tongaat mall

A Tongaat mall collapsed on Tuesday near Durban, killing one person and injuring 29 others. (AFP)

A Tongaat mall collapsed on Tuesday near Durban, killing one person and injuring 29 others. (AFP)

The eThekwini Metro municipality is considering trying to force a developer to demolish an illegal shopping mall that partially collapsed in Tongaat, north of Durban, killing a woman and injuring 29 people.

"Council is now looking at options not only of bringing an action for [a] contempt of court decision, but also the possibility of an order for the owner to demolish the collapsed structure," eThekwini Metro municipal manager Sibusiso Sithole said on Thursday.

Mayor James Nxumalo revealed on Wednesday that the property's developer and owner, Rectangle Property Investments, had not obtained planning permission to build the mall.

In fact, it was ordered by the high court in Durban on November 14 to stop construction until planning permission had been obtained.

Despite the court order, Gralio Construction continued to build the mall, and on Tuesday evening, a football field sized portion of it collapsed.

At the time, it was not known how many people were on the poorly-fenced construction site, and 50 people were initially feared trapped.

Police search
Officially, only one person remains unaccounted for, according to KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Lieutenant Mandy Govender.

But the police could not rule out the possibility that others were buried beneath the slab that collapsed.

"We are not ruling out that there were other people on site, but only one contractor has told us that they are missing an employee," Govender said.

A crane was removing rubble on the site on Thursday, as members of the police search and rescue unit watched. Three workers planted poles for a fence around the mall.

Lieutenant Jack Haskins of the Pietermaritzburg K9 search and rescue unit said on Thursday afternoon that the dogs had picked up one scent.

"But it's coming from under the slab. It could be 20 metres away. We don't know, but we will have to clear more rubble before we can send in the dogs to find out what it is."

Mall scheduled to open
The scent could come from a body or from an item with blood on it that was left behind by one of the rescued workers taken to hospital.

Gralio Construction, some of whose workers were among the injured, could not be reached for comment.

KwaZulu-Natal chief labour inspector Abey Raspae confirmed that no other bodies had been found.

He said the department had not been told how many people were not accounted for.

Govender said a culpable homicide docket had been opened. She said this was standard procedure in the event of a death, and it was too early to say who would be charged.

Labour department spokesperson Nhlanhla Khumalo said activities at the site had been stopped for the day and would resume on Friday.

The mall was scheduled to open in March.

Municipality's appeals
On Thursday afternoon, the Democratic Alliance (DA) accused the city of handing Gralio a R101-million tender for a low cost housing development, despite the Tongaat mall collapse.

Sithole denied this and said the R101-million Cornubia housing project the DA was referring to was in fact an old contract awarded in 2011.

He said he rejected the awarding of the tender, but was overruled by the municipality's appeals authority and the courts, and that the process was finalised only in October.

"After exhausting all the options for a non-award, it was considered prudent to proceed with Gralio," said Sithole, who accused the DA of cheap. – Sapa



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