The expensive white elephant

There is a lot of confusion over the massive building structure situated behind Unicorn Preparatory School between the school’s grounds and the Mopani District Municipality’s Disaster Management Centre (the fire brigade) in Tzaneen.

The sheer size of the structure dwarfs that of the dilapidated Letaba Boulevard building in the CBD. Its raw steel reinforcements grow out of incomplete concrete pillars to pierce the skies three storeys high. Staircases lead to more staircases which in turn lead nowhere. Electrical conduit and trunking for light fittings hang from incomplete walls and ceilings. The entire site is overgrown, fences and gates brandishing “Construction site do not enter” signs lay flat on the ground amid shoulder-high grass and Lantana.

Next to the structure 40 pallets of neatly packed face bricks protrude from heavy overgrowth, and to the side approximately 20 more pallets of building bricks stand crumbling.

In 2015 Bulletin visited this site and we were able to drive all the way up to the building. On Tuesday this week, we could barely pass the reservoir which stands 100m from the entrance. There are visible signs that this site is regularly visited by either vagrants seeking shelter from the elements, or possibly criminal elements. A single footpath lined with used polystyrene takeaway packages leads all the way from the reservoir to the structure. This path is not overgrown.

To shed some light on the matter we dug into the archives of the Mopani District and found a tender document dated January 2013. The tender was for the Mopani District Municipality office building and access road – main contract. Tender documents were available as of the Friday, 18th of January 2013 and the contract consisted of building, civil, electrical, mechanical and road works.

Prospective tenderers were requested to meet the engineer at the site of the existing disaster management centre (fire brigade) on Tuesday, the 22nd of January 2013. We could not find a tender amount for this tender, but we contacted the spokesperson for the Mopani District Municipality, Odas Ngobeni.

This is where the details of the project and the various tenders became hazy. Initially we asked Ngobeni what the building was intended to be used as, how much the tender for the project was and why it has not been completed.

“The project is worth over R50 million, intended to provide accommodation for staff of Mopani District Municipality. We have issued a claim against the contractor by the name of Kgafela who has in turn issued a counterclaim. The matter is before the court. Once the legal issue is resolved, an assessment will be done by a structural engineer and that technical report will guide the Council in determining the way forward. Therefore, we are unable to comment any further,” he said.

When we asked him when the project started and when it was supposed to be completed, as well as the reasons which led to the legal action, his response was “We would rather not get into details on this legal matter. The project started in October 2010, and the completion date was set for January 2012.”

Finding it strange that the tender invite we found was dated 2013, and Ngobeni said that the project started in 2010 and scheduled for completion in 2012, we did some more digging. What we discovered was another tender [MDM 2010 – 005] awarded to Kgafela in 2010 worth R217 765 567.58. When we asked Ngobeni to clarify this he said, “Kgafela was appointed in 2010 for R92 million, but we are now involved in a legal matter.”

We asked him why the amount he initially stated for the project was R50 million, when the 2010 tender was for an amount of R217 million and he now stated that the contractor was appointed for R92 million. His response was that the project was implemented in phases.

We asked him to clarify the two separate tenders as we deduced that due to the clarified legal issues between the MDM and the appointed contractor, the work must have stopped and therefore a new contractor would have had to be appointed to complete it. “We have had stoppages and the legal issues,” Ngobeni explained. “We did indicate that we have a legal issue with Kgafela. The matter is not finalized, therefore we could not proceed with appointment of a different contractor.”

Confused by this response, we asked Ngobeni to clarify. He did not respond and by the time of going to print we had not received any further communication. To summarize the information we have thus far; in 2010 a tender was awarded to a construction company to build an office building for the MDM in Tzaneen to the value of R217 million.

It was meant to be completed in 2012 but a legal row ensued between the two parties which is now still before the courts. In 2013 a second tender for the same project was advertised, but according to Ngobeni, the MDM could not appoint a new contractor for the project because there was a legal battle ongoing with the original contractor. In the meantime there is no further information and the structure is left standing incomplete and open to the elements.

This is a developing story and we will endeavour to gain further clarity on the matter as more information is made available.