Challenges in identifying victims of the George building collapse, interpreters called to assist

Emergency services continue for the fifth day in rescue operations. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ Independent Newspapers

Emergency services continue for the fifth day in rescue operations. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ Independent Newspapers

Published May 10, 2024


Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said they have been running through a difficult identification process regarding construction workers who died and those who are still buried under the rubble after an apartment building collapsed in George.

Winde was speaking on Friday during a media briefing.

He said since the tragedy struck on Monday afternoon, 40 workers have been retrieved from the rubble, of whom 12 were dead, 13 are in hospital and another 41 are still unaccounted for.

Winde said they understand that families are frustrated, but they also need to make sure that they get the identification right.

“We know families are raising issues about not knowing who is who, but its quite a difficult identification process. The SAPS are busy doing finger-printing, we got DNA testing, we also have photographs to match and place,” he said.

Winde added that the most difficult challenge they were faced with was a language barrier when communicating with the families and they have asked for assistance.

“We have people coming in from consulates and if there’s any language practitioner that is missing (to translate), we have resources from the premier’s office who are busy linking and looking for interpreters who will be necessary. The big issue is to get the identification right, and that is a process,” he said.

In an interview with the SABC, local government MEC Anton Bredell said they only picked up late that there were translation challenges, so they got embassies from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique to come and assist.

Bredell said some of the construction workers were picked up off the road holding placards, and they had no identification on them, and because they used nicknames on site, this also hindered the identification process.

“Normally when on site they talk to one another on a nickname basis,” he said.

As the building developers face scrutiny for possibly hiring illegal immigrants and poor workmanship, Western Cape police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Thembisile Patekile said they haven’t spoken to any of the developers.

“We are at the initial stages of our investigation and when the time comes to speak to them, we will find them,” he said.

Meanwhile, chairperson of the portfolio committee on human settlements in Parliament, Machwene Semenya called for the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC) to launch an in-depth investigation into the tragic incident.

She said the NHBRC had a moral and legal duty to investigate and report on any shortcomings during the building process.

“The investigation should focus on whether there was bad workmanship, registration of the builders, and whether the materials used are in accordance with building standards in the country as per the Housing Consumers Protection Measurement Act,” Semenya said.

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