Black Business Council blames Nxesi for George building collapse

The Black Business Council (BBC) says the Department of Labour and Employment and its minister Thulas Nxesi should take responsibility for the George building collapse in which at least 12 people had died by Friday.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde said on Friday afternoon that the death toll in the accident that happened when a five-storey building under construction collapsed, had risen to 12. He said three more bodies were removed from the rubble that morning and that 41 people were still unaccounted for. At least 40 survivors had been rescued by Friday.

“The Department of Labour and Employment and other roleplayers such as the resident engineer and the developer’s health and safety agent, as well as the main contractor’s site management team, including its appointed health and safety officer are collectively responsible for the disaster that happened on this project,” BBC deputy president Greg Mofokeng said.

Mofokeng said that it was impossible to speculate on what exactly transpired on site for such a disaster to happen, citing that a comprehensive investigation can shed light to unearth the exact cause of the tragic and fatal incident.

“The department doesn’t have sufficient inspectors on the ground to undertake important inspections of all workplaces let alone construction sites countrywide.”

He said an investigation would reveal if the site was visited by an inspector and whether those tasked with inspection, deliberately ignored clear signs of lack of compliance which led to the disaster.

“If the site was visited, it would be reasonable to suspect that the inspector was bribed to look the other way, thus enabling noncompliance to continue.”

Mofokeng added that the department should have a sufficient number of inspectors for the execution of its mandate to ensure that workplaces, including construction sites, are compliant with the country’s occupational health and safety legislation and policies.

“We should move swiftly to criminally charge management of companies that contravene the legislation, especially in cases where there are serious injuries and fatalities,” said Mofokeng.

Nxesi’s spokesperson Sabelo Mali and the departments director of communications Petunia Lessing had not responded to our enquiries on Friday afternoon.

Nxesi visited the site on Thursday and told journalists that “at some stage, once they are done with their work, the police will hand over to the Department of Employment and Labour, which will be able to start with its own investigation”.

“In the end, once we get the investigation of the police and our investigations, in particular, we will be able to say what we are going to do,” Nxesi said.

Meanwhile, Mofokeng said the BBC, through its affiliate, the Black Business Council in the Built Environment, -several years ago presented a private-public partnership model to the Department of Labour and Employment.

He said the model proposed that industry associations would be appropriately empowered and licensed to inspect construction sites across the country to ensure compliance with construction regulations and also to ensure that there are no illegal labour practices. “Unfortunately, the department hasn’t responded to this proposal,” said Mofokeng.

One of the developers of the doomed building Nick Morgan-Wilson said: “This whole thing that happened in George is devastating. Rescue operations now have turned into recovery operations, and it’s devastating to us. We cannot answer what could have happened under these circumstances, but there is a professional team that has been appointed. My full focus is on rescue and recovery, and investigations are ongoing.”

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