Johannesburg - An alleged construction site invasion in Bedfordview has authorities concerned that the so-called construction “mafia” is not only gaining a foothold in Ekurhuleni but is muscling into the suburban building market.
Owners of a construction company working in Bedfordview claim that a group of men came to their site three weeks ago, forced their employees to down tools, damaged property and threatened them.
The men were from a construction company called Phindani Trading and Projects based in Malvern East.
This incident comes as another construction company owner says he is forced to employ local contractors who threaten to sabotage his work if he doesn’t comply. The owners of the construction company, which is building residential units in Bedfordview, says the owner of Phindani Trading and Projects, Mxolisi Phindani, went to their site wanting to be sub-contracted to complete the tiling on the project.
Phindani visited the site and offices on several occasions, and became threatening.
“They said ‘we will kill you’,” said one of the owners of the construction company, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Workers from Phindani Trading and Projects allegedly broke a gate to the premises and a door. The owners of the construction company said Phindani demanded that they use workers from the community.
Phindani denied damaging the door and gate and said he didn’t threaten anyone. He claimed he was there in good faith looking for a contract to do the tiling. Phindani said he instructed the workers to down tools so that the owner would come to the site and they could discuss a contract.
This was done peacefully, he said. “We requested from them that if they claim they employed people from the community, could we have proof of that,” said Phindani.
He accused the owners of using illegal immigrants as labour.
Phindani said it was up to private companies to employ workers from the community to help with unemployment and boost the local economy.
The owners say they don’t employ illegal workers.
However DA councillor in Bedfordview, Jill Humphreys said Phindani had no right.
“They are taking a chance. There isn’t a law allowing them to do that.
“There is this process in government and Ekurhuleni subscribes to it. Here, where we have a local project, we have a locally employed community liaison officer, who procures workers from the local community,” said Humphreys.
“If he wants to report that there is any business doing illegal employment, he must go to the police.”
Humphreys said she contacted the Ekurhuleni city manager who instructed the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) chief to deal with the problem. EMPD personnel are to respond if Phindani comes back to the site.
Other construction company owners had similar experiences, which they say is the work of the so-called construction mafia.
Humphreys said councillors across Ekurhuleni were receiving reports of incidents.
The Bedfordview Community Policing Forum (CPF) said it received reports of a group of individuals who have been approaching construction sites and demanding that the developers get rid of their workforce and appoint them as their contractors.
This, they said, was done through threats and intimidation.
They said they were working with neighbouring suburb CPFs, the SAPS, EMPD and the city council to combat the syndicates.
A business owner who installs fibre cables in residential areas, that include Edenvale, Bedfordview and Olifantsfontein, said since the beginning of the year, he increasingly encountered what he called the “construction mafia”, who come and demand work.
“They will come to you and say we want a piece of the project, whether you like it or not,” said the owner, who also wished to remain anonymous.
“If you don’t, they threaten to demolish the infrastructure.
“They then give you people to work with who are inexperienced and are just there to be paid.”
This construction owner said he complies as “the police do nothing”.
It is difficult to work out the true cost of this crime but Roy Mnisi, the executive director of Master Builders SA believes the figure is R26billion.
It is often done in the guise of radical economic transformation and state infrastructure projects have been the worst hit.
A common modus operandi is to demand a 30% stake in the project.
Those who don’t agree often face work stoppages or even vandalism.
The first reports of the crime were from Durban in 2016, but since then it has spread across the country.
“We have experienced it mostly with public sector projects but they have been moving to private sector projects and one wouldn’t be surprised if they are also moving to residential developments,” said Mnisi.
Mnisi said his organisation was trying to address the problem.
“We are engaging with the government, unfortunately we are getting little support from law enforcement,” he said.