(Xinhua/Wang Peng) (lmm)
JOHANNESBURG - The so-called “construction mafia”, which intimidate and harass builders on sites and demand work for their members, has spread its wings to Pretoria’s eastern suburbs of Arcadia, Menlo Park and Brooklyn. 

A developer, who did not want to be named, told Business Report that a group of about 10 to 12 people had come to their building site twice, intimidated workers and demanded work for the local community. 

He said all their workers, including their bricklayers and plasterers, lived in Mamelodi and were local South Africans. 

He said this was followed by another group about two to three months ago, claiming to be part of the Amalgamated Business Forum, demanding that he use one of their community leaders and pay him R10 000 a month. 

The group also wanted to be able to quote for the supply of building materials, but the only two prices he had received from them to date were “off the chart” and he refused to use them. 

The developer said he had asked for but not received details about the building experience of the community leader and informed them he would pay him only R5 000 a month. 

“He comes here (to the site) once or twice a day, walks around a bit and then leaves,” the developer said. 

“I am waiting to see what he does. That is the guy we have to pay. I haven’t paid anything yet, because it’s not the end of the month. 

“There are two groups and they drive around and try and get their fingers in the pie. Its all extortion really, and nothing more.” 

The developer said he had spoken to other builders and developers who told him it was a widespread problem. 

“They told me you have to accommodate them somehow and pay, otherwise they come on to your site with 200 or 300 people and cause complete havoc,” he said. Roy Mnisi, the executive director of Master Builders South Africa (MBSA), said mafia-style business forums first emerged on construction sites in KwaZulu-Natal and thereafter in the Eastern Cape, but have now expanded into Gauteng and Mpumalanga. 

Rhetoric Mnisi said they largely based their demands on misinterpreted rhetoric about radical economic transformation and procurement regulations.

“All they want is that 30 percent of the contract to be given to them, irrespective of other arrangements the main contractor would have entered into with sub-contractors.” 

He said the often violent nature of these incidents had resulted in construction companies being forced to delay work on affected projects, resulting in increased costs and making workers redundant for long periods. 

Mnisi said the MBSA had urged its members to ensure they complied with the broad based black economic empowerment legislation, procurement regulations and sub-contracted to local communities in an attempt to avoid this problem. 

However, Mnisi admitted these business forums were not interested in their level of compliance with the law. 

Mnisi said the MBSA was gravely concerned and had called for the country’s law enforcement agencies to assist in bringing sanity to the sector, but the police had been struggling to deal with it. 

He said it did not help to get a court interdict against specific people because other people who were not interdicted continued with the same illegal practices. “We have seen some instances where our members have had to leave the site and not continue with the work. 

“That is not only bad for the building industry but also for the economy,” he said.

-BUSINESS REPORT