FOR several days Johannesburg office workers watched a construction worker chipping away at a pillar supporting the concrete slab above him — until it collapsed yesterday, crushing the man to death.
“I cannot believe they did not foresee this,” a shocked witness, Kenneth Jones, said. “Surely they knew you should not be underneath when you are chipping away at the pillar holding up the structure?
“Did those guys not realise it was going to happen?” said Jones, who works in a building next to the Lindsay Saker showroom, on the corner of Oxford and Bolton roads in Rosebank, where the slab fell in just after 9.30am.
Ishmael Makone, 52, was killed instantly, trapped in the cab of his mini-excavator. He was a father of three.
Jones and other office workers had been following the progress of the showroom’s demolition for a number of days.
He said: “I was interested because I wondered how they would drop that section. They had pushed out the walls and only the supporting pillars were left. When they were chipping away at the pillar they were directly underneath the slab and it was already sagging.
“There was no common sense.
“The operator would not have known the danger he was in; he was just following the orders of the foremen. The next thing, he was under a pile of rubble.”
Makone had 12 years’ experience operating mini-excavators.
Bradis, the earthworks firm he worked for, was leasing the machine and Makone’s services to MW Civil Earthworks, the company contracted to demolish the building.
Marie Sorore, who works for Bradis Plant Hire, said Makone was under the supervision and instruction of the MW site foreman at the time of the accident.
“Ishmael was a real good guy, a good soul. He had been with us for three years. It is really sad,” she said.
Several attempts to reach MW Civil Earthworks for comment were unsuccessful.
Gardeners working across the road from the building said they had been concerned about the workers’ safety for several days.
Gardener Raymond Kubayi said: “I had a feeling something like this would happen sooner or later … but I never thought it would be today.”
Kubayi’s colleague, Meshack Dlamini, said he had seen some of the workers removing rubble shortly after parts of the building had been demolished in the past when the structure was still “shaking”.
By late last night, Makone’s crushed body was still trapped in the cab of his excavator under the slab and rubble. Johannesburg emergency services rescue workers and structural engineers were devising a plan to retrieve his remains.
Emergency services spokesman Percy Morokane said: “There will be a full-scale investigation by building inspectors, the city’s engineers and the department of labour. It will be a very technical investigation to determine if all safety concerns were addressed.”