eThekwini Municipality keeps an eye on forums, security ‘in place’ as businesses rebuild
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DURBAN - THE eThekwini Municipality has issued a proactive warning against any disruptions following reports of “extortion by criminal groups” as businesses begin to rebuild following the civil unrest and looting that took place in KwaZulu-Natal two weeks ago.
Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said he was aware of fears about business forums and their possible hijacking of development work.
Kaunda’s comment comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday said that the looting, vandalism and sabotage of businesses and infrastructure were a great threat to economic recovery
He added that steps were in place to strengthen the capacity and preparedness of security forces to prevent similar events in the future.
Ramaphosa added that this included “responding quickly and decisively to reports that we are now receiving – of extortion by criminal groups as businesses start to rebuild, especially in KZN”.
“While we have acknowledged that our response was too slow, our security forces have demonstrated they are able to ensure stability and order,” he said.
Speaking during his engagement with business as the rebuilding process began in earnest, Kaunda said: “Once there are people who are stopping projects, we will deal with them decisively.
“That is what we have been doing in other areas, and we have succeeded in doing that. So this thing of claiming that we have to benefit, but you want to put criminality in your approach, that must be rejected at all costs and people must understand that we are not a government that is going to allow the criminality and anarchy that we have seen before.”
Approached for comment on the matter, KZN business forum Delangokubona warned about its impending radical move to force the government to implement and fast-track “realistic economic transformation”.
Thabani Mzulwini, national chairperson of the forum, said: “If the president says that quick and decisive action will be taken against criminal groups, he must be referring to an organisation that is opposed to transformation.
“He will not have been referring to business forums such as ourselves, which are organisations that have been fighting for true radical economic transformation (RET) and who are not criminal at all, unlike those who are openly opposed to every move towards the economic emancipation for our people.”
Mzulwini added that the forum was “deeply unhappy” about the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma as he had fought for RET.
“The ‘rainbow nation’ agenda and the transformation agenda – in the manner in which it has found its effect since the birth of democracy – has really let African people down. Now it is for us as the business forum to exercise our power,” he said.
Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC Ravi Pillay reiterated the stance that the provincial government was willing to work with those who are genuinely seeking opportunities, but will not entertain those who run “mafia protection rackets”.
He said extortion was a criminal activity that must be dealt with by law enforcement agencies.
“Rebuilding investor and business confidence is one of our key priorities, and therefore we cannot allow any activity that undermines that process to fester. Now is the time for all South Africans to unite and rebuild to save livelihoods. It’s certainly not a time to extort resources from the patriotic businesses trying to rebuild,” said Pillay.
Professor Bonke Dumisa, an economist, described Ramaphosa’s sentiments as speculative, saying that they might have been based on the fact that some groups of people were known to have disrupted work in the build-up of the business centre near uMhlanga in the recent past, when they had demanded a portion of the business stake.
“The president made this warning towards the end of his speech. What the president is doing is to speculatively issue a warning that should this rear its ugly head, there will be decisive and swift action against it. We know that this issue is there, it exists as a concern. The (political) leadership needs to be honest about it and address it, otherwise it will continue to cause business development uncertainty,” said Dumisa.
Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, a University of Zululand-based economist, said the government was under pressure to provide credible assurances following the clear ill-preparedness of security and intelligence forces to deal with the recent violence.
“As long as there is no certainty of stability in KZN and elsewhere, businesses will be reluctant to operate. Affected businesses are currently weighing their options, should they continue to invest when the National Intelligence Agency, SAPS and SANDF could not effectively anticipate and prevent the disaster that ensued,” said Kaseeram.
“The government has to provide credible assurances that the scale of the unrest will not repeat itself. The state can ill afford the resources to fully equip the three mentioned entities given the huge and increasing debt-to-GDP ratio. Brave talk is important, but more important is decisive action. The state must be seen to be effective.
“Vested interests exploited the weaknesses of the mentioned state law, order and defence apparatuses. If these weaknesses appear to be inherent, then organised crime will also wilfully exploit the situation to engage in brazen acts of racketeering, as reports indicate. The state needs to create an effective intelligence, efficient elite policing and defence network countrywide,” he said.