Meyersdal Inquiry comes to a premature end after house designer refuses to testify

OCTOBER 30, 2014

Taking a cue from the contractor of the Meyersdal Eco Estate house that collapsed in Alberton who refused to answer questions yesterday, an engineer/designer who designed the house Ranjan Galal today (October 30) also refused to answer questions posed to him during the inquiry saying he “reserve the right to remain silent and not incriminate himself”.

Galal’s lawyer, Robert Krombein from NRFSA Attorneys said his client had not received engineering reports and this was substantially and procedurally unfair to his client, therefore “my client has right to remain silent when asked questions”.

Meyersdal Structural Incident Inquiry Presiding Officer, Phumudzo Maphaha cautioned witnesses against remaining silent saying: “the right to remain silent has limitations. I will hate to evoke my right as a commissioner to force out information that we require as a Commission. If we are unable to get information, this will render the inquiry useless.

“It looks like the tail is beginning to wag the dog, when the dog supposed to wag the tail,” he warned.

The Meyersdal Structural Collapse Incident Inquiry started its work yesterday (October 29). First to take a stand yesterday were workers and contractor, Errol Romburgh from Romicon.

The Inquiry follows the house collapse on 18 August in Meyersdal Eco Estate near Alberton that led to the death of seven workers, hospitalisation of nine and survival of eight workers. The Inquiry was set to sit until 07-November-2014 before today’s abrupt end.

Some of the questions though not exhaustive that Maphaha asked Galal include:

  • Were you involved in the project that led to the collapse of the structure?
  • Did you visit the site to prevent the collapse? if you did not do so it is a contravention!
  • Are you aware of the duties of designer/engineer in terms of Construction Regulations?
  • Was the structure in accordance with your designs?
  • Why did you design the structure without foundation?

Galal responded to these questions by telling the Inquiry that he: “reserves the right to remain silent and not to incriminate myself”.

Asked what was the size of the pillars and the slab? Galal said these were 340mm against the slab that weighed 84 000kg.

Maphaha told Galal that he found out that the columns on site were either under-designed or under constructed to carry a weight of 84 000 kg.

“There was also no proper foundation to carry the design, and that is the conclusion I observed. That is what I saw and what you also saw on the ground,” Maphaha said.

It also emerged during the interview that Galal was a member of the Engineering Council of South Africa.

The Meyersdal Structural Collapse Incident Inquiry was today also supposed to interview the owner of the collapsed house, Gregory Cumming.

Maphaha said he would no longer be interviewing the client (Cumming).

The Commission had requested Cumming to furnish an affidavit confirming whether he hired the contract and the engineer/designer. It also wants proof of payment for work done.

“Although the Commission does not have evidence of the involvement of the client in the collapse of the house. But, the Commission has found that there were a number of contraventions identified in the project. We will use evidence led yesterday and today to compile report, and evidence gathered on site to compile a report and make recommendations that we will forward to the National Director of Public Prosecutions,” he said.

The Meyersdal Structural Collapse Incident Inquiry is expected to complete its report with recommendations within 60 days.