Property developer and well-connected millionaire, Jay Singh, started construction of the doomed 16000m² multi storey mall in the middle of Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal, without permission.
Without approved building plans or an environmental impact assessment to rezone the residential area, the building, which is less than 5m from a railway line, sprang up within months.
On Tuesday, a section of the shopping mall collapsed, leaving one person dead and 29 injured. A search for survivors will continue today.
Yesterday, it emerged that the eThekwini municipality was aware that Singh continued to build despite a court order but it failed to send police to stop him.
"The site could not be policed 24-hours a day," city manager Sibusiso Sithole said yesterday.
The Times has also learnt that construction workers on site were not registered with the Labour Department.
Singh's company, Rectangle Property Investments, did not provide a list of names of workers at the site on Tuesday and rescue teams were unable to determine the number of missing people.
Durban mayor, James Nxumalo, said yesterday that officials had done all they could to stop the construction. "We were in the process of applying for a contempt of court warrant after we discovered that the owners were ignoring a November 14 court order to stop work," he said.
But a track record of questionable deals with the municipality and ignored claims of shoddy workmanship tell another story.
Singh was at the helm of the city's bus company, Remant Alton, when it collapsed three years ago. He secured a massive profit when the municipality bought it back from him for R403-million after it had sold it for R70-million to him.
Despite numerous court applications over shoddy workmanship by the owners of low-cost houses built by the family's companies, Singh's wife's business, Gralio Precast, was awarded a R70-million contract to build the first phase of Cornubia, a multi-billion housing project near Umhlanga.
In July, his wife, Shireen Annamalay, went to court to stop the municipality from awarding the second phase of the development to another company.
The search for life beneath the rubble from a collapsed concrete slab, the size of a soccer field, was suspended for the Department of Labour yesterday to investigate and also to bring in heavy machinery to lift massive concrete blocks and demolish parts of the mall. Warrant Officer Dave Steyn said: " An emergency vehicle will be on standby and rescue teams will come in when heavy machinery is brought in'' to expose what is underneath.
The family of 35-year-old construction worker Zakithi Nxumalo were too distraught to discuss his death yesterday.
"I am too hurt to speak. I really have nothing to say," his sister, Thobeka Nxumalo, said yesterday.
Mozambican bricklayer, Amos Ngomane, was still shocked that he had survived.
"I don't know if it was just luck. I fell from the scaffolding. I am okay. When I look at the pictures I can't believe I survived," he said.
Witnesses say a security guard, identified as Charles Khuzwayo, pulled out at least four trapped workers before help arrived.
"He is a hero. He didn't think twice about going to help," onlooker Sally Budhram said.
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said a culpable homicide case was being investigated.
The National Union of Mineworkers demanded that Singh be arrested immediately for defying the court order.
"What happened in Tongaat is just the tip of the iceberg," NUM provincial coordinator Bhekani Ngcobo said.
Singh's lawyer, Rajan Naidoo, said three independent structural engineers were investigating the reasons for the collapse.
November 2006: The former owners of the land, Strathmore Property Investments Trust applied for building plans.
January 2007: An application from Strathmore for earthworks plans was declined.
March 2013: The city became aware that the property had already been extensively excavated and that construction workers had commenced piling for construction.
April 8 2013: The city wrote to the owners calling on them to cease all construction.
June 24 2013: The city issued a formal notice of intention to approach the courts to stop the construction.
July 4 2013: The owner's attorney wrote to the city requesting a two-week adjournment indicating an intention to oppose the court application.
July 24 2013: An inspection revealed that, despite the request to stop work, construction continued unabated.
July 31 2013: The city brought an urgent application to direct the owners to suspend any further building operations.
November 20 2013: One construction worker died and 29 were injured when a concrete slab collapsed.