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Bid for special police unit to tackle ’construction mafia’ welcomed

The construction mafia entails gangs who intimidate foremen, project managers and construction bosses by going on to project sites and demanding a stake. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

The construction mafia entails gangs who intimidate foremen, project managers and construction bosses by going on to project sites and demanding a stake. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 31, 2022

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CAPE TOWN - With construction projects worth at least R25 billion being violently disrupted and halted in South Africa, the industry has welcomed the move to have a special unit set up in the SAPS to deal with the so-called “construction mafia” that uses fear and intimidation to demand a protection fee or stake, affecting crucial infrastructure projects.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in Parliament that a special unit would be created in the SAPS to deal with the issue that is disrupting businesses. The construction mafia entails gangs who intimidate foremen, project managers and construction bosses by going on to project sites and demanding a stake.

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The South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) had in 2019 estimated the value of halted construction projects were worth about R25 billion, and highly skilled professionals left the country as a result.

While police did not respond to questions about this anticipated special unit, Safcec Western Cape manager Rudolf Murray said their members had been seriously compromised by the activities of the “construction mafia”, with severe damage to property experienced, and staff assaulted and even killed.

“We have been in constant engagement with the SAPS and the Office of the Public Prosecutor and following on representations made by Safcec, it was decided by the authorities that site disruptions would henceforth be treated as organised crime,” said Murray.

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Western Cape Property Development Forum chairperson Deon van Zyl said the construction mafia appeared to be less organised in the Western Cape, compared to other parts of the country.

In the province, they are said to mostly affect economically strapped communities where housing and infrastructure is needed.

“We have, however, had reports of construction workers’ safety being compromised, and to the property development industry, the construction labour sector is a critical asset. What also concerns us is that the incidents that have been reported in the Western Cape have not only delayed projects, but that the projects largely involved have been those involved in the construction of public housing schemes,” said Van Zyl.

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Mayco member for Human Settlements Malusi Booi said criminal elements including gang violence and alleged extortion have cost the City more than R131 million in 2020 and 2021.

The Beacon Valley housing project has been the hardest hit with four separate shooting incidents recorded, as well as petrol-bombings of construction machinery.

“Both contractors have since been de-established due to the unsafe working environment. The City is looking at all available options so that work can resume,” said Booi.

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Mayco member for Urban Mobility Rob Quintas said they had lost working relationships with contractors in some cases due to gangs insisting on “protection money“ using robberies, shootings and the burning of equipment to intimidate and scare contractors.

According to provincial Human Settlements spokesperson Muneera Allie, there were signs of possible interference on certain projects in the metro and injuries have been sustained on recent projects suspected to be linked to unlawful activities.

South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP) said the issue of construction mafias had been a long-standing problem.

“SACPCMP hopes that the special unit will be able to successfully eliminate all incidences of intimidation that result from these ‘construction mafias’ and open an avenue for not only constructive engagement but also decisive action against corrupt practices that hinder the development of the construction industry.”

Association of South African Quantity Surveyors vice president Newton Baloyi said that with the police taking over the criminal element, professionals in the built environment would be able to focus on the fundamental reason for local community dissatisfaction when large projects are involved.

South African Institution of Civil Engineering president, Professor Marianne Vanderschuren, said: “Such special police units can be highly effective, as their enforcement is targeted and officers are well equipped to investigate the specific tasks at hand.

“We hope that this will be the case in this instance too, and that the civil engineering and infrastructure industries will soon be able to reap the benefits of the success of this special crime prevention unit.”

Cape Times

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