EDITORIAL : Tongaat Mall Accident

This week's structural failure at the Tongaat Mall building site, which claimed two lives and injured scores more, has shocked building professionals in South Africa. The last building to collapse under construction in South Africa was an office block in Roodepoort in October 2008. By comparison, one hundred and thirty buildings have collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria, since that date.

In a world where everyone with an Internet connection is a construction expert and a master architect the public reaction to the collapse has ranged from the comical to the absurd. The comments sections of the mainstream blogs were awash with the usual fruitless racial banter which characterises South Africa's sadly polarised society. The mainstream media appeared to focus on the fact that the affected building's owners are politically well connected and recipients of government tenders, as if that had anything to do with the strength of materials. A cluster of politicians, one more confused than the next, zoomed in on the conclusion that the building had collapsed because it had no approved plans – as if approved plans held up buildings.

An investigation under way will reveal the cause of the unfortunate accident in due course.

Speculation that the building was designed by a “pig farmer in the Midlands”  closely associated with the country's president is clearly malicious. The building was designed by one of South Africa's leading architectural practices, Boogertman & Partners – one would be hard pressed to find a more appropriate firm for the job. Some of the drawings are available for download on the letting agents' (under construction) website; http://rvnproperties.co.za/ .  A quick perusal of the drawings proves that the building design is perfectly sound.

It is clear from the rubble pattern and witness accounts that the cause of the failure was structural, probably due to the early and incorrect removal of props and supports. It is highly unlikely that the base cause of the failure was poor quality of materials, as tends to be the case with many African building failures. Time will tell...

In due course it will be found that some poor individual was pressured into taking a calculated risk by the need to meet a completion deadline, probably severely shortened by the court interdict to stop construction.  The rest will be political theatre and legal profiteering of no significance to the construction world.

Of deep concern is the renewed baying for more and tighter legislation of the building professions and industries.

Herein the problem...

We do not need more regulation; we need less – a lot less; and a lot different.

South Africa has reached a point where the built environment professions and industries are so badly over regulated that they have fallen into complete chaos. It is a serious crisis which is little understood outside the AEC professions.

Whilst the sheeple press and the political opportunists will attempt to tar and feather the developers and owners, the real problem – and ultimate cause of this disaster – will be completely ignored.

South Africa's construction sector is in a complete mess. A legislated mess.  It will remain a mess until the State relinquishes the power it usurped from the Architects and Engineers of this country and returns self regulatory RIGHTS to the AEC professions.

That will not happen any time soon.

Until then look forward to more building accidents in a neighbourhood near you – proudly brought to you courtesy of the South African government; your experts in the building business...

Pedro Buccellato
AA News Network