M&R lawyer, Commissioner at loggerheads in Grayston bridge collapse inquiry

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The lawyer representing construction company Murray and Roberts, at the inquiry into the collapse of the temporary bridge over the N1 at Grayston Drive in Johannesburg three years ago, has been accused of becoming an obstacle to the commission.

Sias Reynecke and Commissioner Phumudzo Maphaha have been at loggerheads about the nature of cross-examination of witnesses at the inquiry.

The inquiry was set up to establish the cause of the 2015 collapse of the bridge which claimed the lives of two people and left nineteen injured.

The resumption of the inquiry has seen heated moments between Maphaha and Reyneke. Maphaha who presided over the inquiry into the 2013 Tongaat Mall collapse in Kwazulu-Natal, took over from Leni Samuels who chaired the first phase of the inquiry.

Reyneke who represents Murray and Roberts has on several occasions voiced his unhappiness with how Maphaha cross-examines witnesses. Below is the extract of the exchange between

“You are overruling me… – Yes, in fact you are becoming destruction.”

Maphaha  adds, “No I am not going to remove you. I want your witnesses here. I’m just indicating to you, you are becoming a distraction here, in always interjecting when always trying to ask questions to the witnesses that you do not even represent.”

On Monday, Reynecke attempted to bar the media from the inquiry, but that request was rejected by Maphaha. He has suggested that the proceedings are not fair.

“You are trying to run the commission sitting on a wrong chair Sir. You are trying to run a commission and it doesn’t work that way. And if I have to exercise my powers I will do so. Because you are prohibiting me from doing my function,” Maphaha said.

Reynecke replied: ” You cannot ask a question? I can ask a question…You can ask her a question and let her respond in full.

“So you require the witnesses not to be cross examined?” Maphaha asked.

Contract manager and engineer at the project site, Hein Pretorius, has told the Commission that he was not in a position to know what caused the collapse.

The former Murray and Roberts’ employee admitted that he had no knowledge of some of the things related to the collapsed structure and had never worked on such a structure before. He however refused to elaborate further.

“Were you aware of what is the load that the structure is able to withstand?  – No commissioner.  – So you build not knowing what the structure could carry? – I was advised not to answer for fear that I might incriminate myself.”

On Thursday, the inquiry will hear the testimonies of two Murray and Roberts employees .