Suspense over Tongaat Mall column test results

FILE PICTURE: Lennie Samuel, a commissioner of the Thongathi (Tongaat) Commission of Inquiry overseeing the drilling of one of the beams to check steel fixing works at the site of the structural collapse of the Thongati Mall. Picture supplied

Test results on a column similar to one that collapsed in the Tongaat mall were “mind boggling”, according to the man leading the commission of inquiry into the collapse.

“It was mind boggling. The result that we got is quite interesting. I will wait for the formal report before I make a comment,” labour department occupational health and safety manager Phumudzo Maphaha said at the inquiry in Tongaat on Monday.

He said the results would only be released next week.

This was in spite of a request by Richard Hoal, the lawyer for design engineer Andre Ballack, to release the information. Ballack was appointed by construction company Gralio Precast.

Last week tests were carried out on the column to determine how strong it was, and what load it could carry.

Ever since the collapse on November 19, 2013, which killed two construction workers and injured 29, Gralio’s representatives claimed the two columns Ballack designed were responsible for the collapse.

Rob Young, the lead engineer for Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, was appointed by Gralio after the collapse. He previously told the commission he believed Ballack had under-designed two columns –identified as columns 319 and 243.

Ballack’s legal team disagreed, believing a beam — identified as beam seven — that column 319 supported, was responsible for the collapse.

During previous commission sessions, it emerged that beam seven was designed by Ballack to have 19 steel bars in it when the concrete was poured.

When the commission examined the beam it found only seven bars, only one of which had been correctly laid.

The column tested on Friday, which had prompted the commissioner’s comment, had the same design specifications as column 319.

Ballack showed the computer program and graphics used in designing a digital model of the mall.

“In our opinion this model [also] shows that the structure was braced,” Ballack said.

Bracing is a procedure where supports are put up to strengthen and reinforce structures, such as beams, columns and lift shafts, allowing them to withstand vertical and horizontal forces.

During previous sessions of the inquiry, questions have been raised about what had been braced, in particular the mall’s lift shaft.

The eThekwini metro municipality tried to stop building work before the mall collapsed. The municipality had also not approved the architect’s plans for the mall.

The inquiry will continue on Tuesday with Young being questioned. A representative of the company that carried out the tests on the column that prompted Maphaha’s comments will be questioned by the commission on October 22.

Ballack will testify again after that.

As Monday’s session concluded, journalists eagerly tried to find out the column test results that had so boggled Maphaha. None of the various representatives were however prepared to go on record and reveal them.


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