SA: Zimbabwean among 19 still trapped a week after building disaster; death toll reaches 33

SA: Zimbabwean among 19 still trapped a week after building disaster; death toll reaches 33

By Eyewitness News

SOUTH AFRCICA: A group of Zimbabwean construction workers have arrived in George from Mossel Bay to support the family of a countryman trapped in the building that collapsed in the area last week.

Peter Chitsika was among 81 people on site when the five-storey apartment block crashed nine days ago. He’s one of 19 people still unaccounted for.

Thirty-three construction workers – 27 men and six women – have since died in the disaster.

Cheap foreign labour and a meagre wage – that’s what Maxwell Goshito said his life was worth to construction employers in South Africa.

“There’s a lot of fear – a lot of fear, yes.”

He’s among several Zimbabwean construction workers who’ve travelled to the site of the George construction tragedy for news of a young countryman.

“It’s painful. We also work in this sector. It could happen to you. I’m feeling bad for the guys, especially the family. On Monday, I’m sure he left and said to his family, ‘I’ll see you later’, but he didn’t make it.”

Dressed in their paint-stained overalls and workman’s boots, the men are forfeiting a day’s earnings for this trip, but it’s not an option to ditch their jobs.

“I have no choice. I have to look after my family. People are suffering back home in Zimbabwe. So, when we are here, we are trying our best. We are pushing.”

Twenty-six-year-old Chitsika was in the same boat, and now his family is facing the reality that he won’t return home.

Rescue teams have been using cranes and other heavy machinery to move some of the thousands of tons of concrete in an attempt to reach deeper into the wreckage. Sniffer dogs were also being used and one was responsible for locating Guambe.

Many of the workers were foreign nationals from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi and authorities were calling for translators to help communicate with survivors. They also said it was making the identification of victims difficult.

Multiple investigations into the cause of the building collapse were underway, including by police, who declared the site a crime scene. The construction company responsible is being investigated to see if it followed proper safety protocols.

People began leaving flowers around the edge of the site as a mark of respect for the victims, while the city and the disaster response team issued a joint statement asking South Africans to observe a moment of silence at 2.09 p.m. on Monday, the exact time the building collapsed last week.