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Following a number of recent reports about the so-called “construction mafia”, the SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors of South Africa (Safcec) has sent letters containing an urgent plea for government intervention to President Cyril Ramaphosa and finance minister Tito Mboweni.  According to the body these gangs had to date disrupted and halted at least 78 projects worth a minimum of R25.5 billion.

In a recent interview, Webster Mfebe, CEO of Safcec said that the industry was gravely concerned about this situation and the harm it caused to investor confidence in South Africa’s economy. He added that disruptions had already resulted in at least 110 engineers and other highly skilled technical personnel leaving the country, with many others on the verge of leaving, due to personal risk to their lives and the lack of work because of projects being disrupted at gunpoint.

Yunus Bayat from the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS) has also called on government to intercede, stating that that a major intervention is needed to protect infrastructure projects, investor confidence, and the safety of professionals in the built environment who are working on project sites. “The ASAQS is calling on the National Prosecuting Authority and local police services to address the situation. A strong and solid intervention is needed, and it should be seen as a top priority for everyone in the built environment and government,” he says.

These two bodies are not the only ones calling for urgent action, with the Black Business Council in the Built Environment (BBCBE) issuing a letter to Minister General Bheki Cele from the Ministry of Police to request an appointment to discuss the illegal stoppages of construction projects across the country. In the letter, the BBCBE says that their members who are engaged in construction activity are subjected to victimisation and work stoppages on a daily basis due to local business forums demanding participation in projects.

The “construction mafia” attacks have been taking place for a number of years now, with many violent incidents as a result. Mfebe says that the termination by the Aveng and European-based Strabag International joint venture of the R1.5 billion SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) Mtentu Bridge Project in the Eastern Cape was due to site disruptions by armed gangs demanding to be part of the project.

Following this, armed gangs attacked the R2.4 billion German oil storage investment project being built by WBHO Construction in Saldanha in the Western Cape. As far back as 2016, armed gangs have been demanding participation in construction projects, often resulting in fatalities. That year, the black owner of a construction company was accosted at gunpoint by the disruptors demanding a stake in the project he had been awarded. When he refused, he was killed in cold blood.

“The KZN police are aware of the incident. Despite the perpetrators being known to the police, to date no arrests have been made,” Mfebe said.

“As professionals working on these projects, we cannot protect ourselves from this type of violent intimidation and we are no match for the automatic weapons that they bring with them,” Bayat says.

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