The construction company building three new residences on the Rhodes University campus had an external auditor conduct a full compliance audit and a plan had been implemented to rectify issues flagged by the Department during a recent site visit, according to lawyers for the company.
A letter sent to the Department of Labour by CMHRB Joint Venture’s legal representative, Brenda Campbell Attorneys, listed five areas of alleged non-conformance at their site at the south end of Prince Alfred Street – scaffolding, barricading of openings, the appointment of an occupational health and safety officer, temporary electrical installations and protective clothing and equipment. A detailed document addresses each compliance area and lists either existing measures or remedies to be implemented.
The letter, a copy of which Grocott’s Mail has in its possession, expresses strong objections to assertions by Department of Labour officials as reported in a regional newspaper. The letter is addressed to Deputy Labour Minister Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa and Director-General Thobile Lamati.
An article published in the Daily Dispatch on Monday said the site had been closed after a spot-check by Holomisa and Lamati uncovered alleged life-threatening conditions there.
However, CMHRB’s lawyers describe the article as inflammatory and say the use of the words “life threatening conditions” was misleading and unjustified under the circumstances. They also denied that building activities had been brought to a halt. “Our client was issued with a notice to remedy the issues, but building activities were not stopped,” Campbell said.
This was confirmed by partner in the Joint Venture Roy Bowles during a visit to the site by Grocott’s Mail this week. “The site was never closed,” Bowles told Grocott’s Mail on Tuesday.
Rhodes University expressed concern at the health and safety allegations. In a statement on Monday, the Communications and Advancement Division said, “Rhodes University takes this matter seriously and has since requested an external, independent safety expert to inspect the site.”
A subsequent statement from Rhodes confirmed that a corrective action plan had been implemented and that certain work had been stopped.
“All scaffolding work at heights at the site where three residences are being built has been halted pending further inspection of corrective interventions and approval by the Department. A departmental inspector is expected to visit the site again next week,” the Rhodes University statement said.
“Concerns raised by the Department included the appointment of an Occupational Health Officer, barricading of openings, temporary electrical installations, use of protective clothing, and properly designed access ramps. All concerns have since been remedied by the contractor. An independent external audit of all compliance requirements is scheduled to be carried out this week.”
Ian L’Ainge, Rhodes University’s Executive Director: Infrastructure, Finance & Operations said in an interview earlier this year that the project budget for completion of the three residences was R101m. In the April interview with journalism students for RUTV, he said construction of the residences was part of a national programme for developing the infrastructure of all tertiary campuses.
New Hall 7, 8 and 9 will house a total of 264 students and the project is due for completion at the end of November.
In a bizarre twist, a woman identifying herself only by her first name called Grocott’s Mail on Tuesday and threatened the newspaper with legal action if it published anything at all to do with the construction site or the Minister’s visit there. The person refused to say on what basis or on whose behalf she was threatening the action.