Mall collapse puts council under spotlight

November 21, 2013 9:43 AM

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November 21 2013 at 11:34am

The tragic incident in Tongaat raises serious questions about the way the city is run, says The Mercury editor.

Durban - A workman dies and dozens are injured as a building collapses while under construction. It transpires that plans for the new shopping mall at Tongaat had not been passed by the municipality and work had been continuing in defiance of an order a month ago that construction should cease.

The law will doubtless take its course in respect of both criminal and civil liability. But the tragic incident raises serious questions about the way the city is run.

The developer involved says it is common for work to go ahead before plans have been passed. What he is saying means, in effect, that the law is routinely flouted.

What is it that gives people such as he the idea that they are above the law; that they will get away with it? Are there really other developers or building contractors in Durban who are constructing without plans having been passed? And what does this say of the rigour of the city’s building inspectorate?

How could work on a site continue for a full month after an order to stop, without being noticed or without the developer being taken to court as a matter of urgency? When it transpires that the developer involved has a criminal conviction for bribing a city official to turn a blind eye to substandard construction work elsewhere, the issue becomes all the murkier.

The Tongaat mall collapse brutally illustrates the need for building regulations and their enforcement. It is tragic that innocent people should pay with their lives for the lesson to be driven home.

The incident will no doubt be fully investigated by engineers, architects and other experts. It is to be hoped the law will take its course.

But a wider investigation is also needed into how a culture of impunity seems to have arisen among certain people who have dealings with the eThekwini council. Nor should it necessarily be confined to the building by-laws and their enforcement. Are other by-laws being routinely ignored?

The people of the city deserve to be told exactly what is going on. The authority and credibility of eThekwini council itself are under the spotlight.


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