Blame for boy’s drowning shifted to contractor

A Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality employee has agreed that the failure to barricade an excavation site where a small boy drowned eight years ago was negligent – but said it was not the municipality’s job to ensure the safety of the area.

In shifting the blame to its contractor, municipal principal technician Ian Pattinson said Consolidated Power Projects was responsible for the site, right up to completion.

Pattinson took the stand in the Port Elizabeth High Court yesterday to defend a civil claim following the horror death of Althero Gaai, 8, in October 2008. Althero, who had been playing with friends, drowned after jumping into a 3.1m-deep hole on the corner of William Slammert Drive and Algoa Street in Timothy Valley, Bethelsdorp, which had filled with water due to heavy rains earlier that week.

Two similar holes had been dug for electrical poles to be erected, but left uncovered pending further work.

The municipality had contracted the work out to Consolidated Power Projects.

“It is included in the contract . . . the contractor is responsible for the supervision of the work.

“The municipality only takes control of the site once the work is completed and a completion certificate is signed,” Pattinson said in response to questions by Advocate Albert Beyleveld SC, for the municipality.

On the day of the tragedy, October 10 2008, Pattinson said, Consolidated was still active on the site.

“The first time I was on the scene was the following morning.”

Althero’s parents, Gerald and Lynette Gaai, have demanded R316 000 in compensation.

This includes past and future medical expenses, general damages in respect of emotional shock, loss of comfort and of the society of the dead boy, and Althero’s funeral costs.

Their advocate, Pieter Mouton, instructed by attorney Francois Swanepoel, said the contractors had acted in the scope of their employment with the municipality.

Mouton said the municipality had caused the hole to be excavated on a site bordering a residential area, where children were known to play.

Despite this, Mouton said, there had been no barricading and no signs up.

Pattinson said it was procedural for warnings to be put in place to warn residents against potential danger.

“I was not part of the supervision, but despite the fact that children play there or where people live, the area should be barricaded,” he said.

“My understanding is that anything less would be negligent.”

Closing argument will be heard ahead of judgment today.

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