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‘Construction mafia hijacks projects worth billions of rands

The Association of South African Quantity Surveyors on Friday added its voice to growing concerns over the so-called construction mafia, calling on the government to intervene to protect projects, investor confidence and the safety of professionals.

The association’s Yunus Bayat warned that the continuing hijacking of billions of rands worth of projects in the sector would undermine confidence and destabilise the industry.

Bayat said construction projects worth more than R25 billion had been violently disrupted and halted by armed groups such as the notorious Delangokubona Business Forum.

“The gangs demanded to be part of the project and burned the properties to the ground. The pictures of the scene look like footage from a war zone,” Bayat said. “Again, police were called, but they only arrived hours later and said that the issue had to be handed over to the Paarl police station. Contractors, female engineers, and other staff had to run for their lives into the veld. The response from the South African police simply isn’t good enough anymore.”

The concerns come just days after the SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) sent an SOS to the government for urgent intervention in halting a series of attacks on projects by AK-47 wielding thugs who are part of the so-called “construction mafia”.

On Wednesday, Safcec chief executive Webster Mfebe said armed gangs had disrupted and halted at least 78 projects in the country.

Mfebe said the industry was concerned about this situation and the harm it caused to investor confidence.

He said these disruptions had already resulted in at least 110 engineers and other highly skilled technical personnel leaving the country, because of the personal risk to their lives and the lack of work.

Mfebe said some departures followed the termination by the Aveng and European-based Strabag International joint venture of the R1.5bn SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) Mtentu Bridge Project in the Eastern Cape due to site disruptions by armed gangs demanding to be part of the project.

“Despite reporting it to the police and interdicts obtained, the disruptors were released after being arrested and continued disrupting the sites unabated with AK-47 rifles,” he said.

Mfebe also cited an incident that took place in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016 when the black owner of a construction company was accosted at gunpoint by the disruptors, demanding a stake in the project he had been awarded. He said this incident was indicative of the fact that contractors of all sizes were adversely affected by “this gruesome phenomenon”.

He added that despite contractors being faced with this situation, which was beyond their control, and having laid charges at police stations and in most cases obtaining court interdicts against the disruptors, public sector client entities, such as Sanral, “continue to mete out heavy penalties against contractors for standing time”.

Mfebe said this was driving these companies to the brink of bankruptcy, adding some had entered business rescue and were shedding more jobs.

“We humbly request an urgent cabinet pronouncement and action on these matters, as the rule of law needs to be maintained at all times in order not to scare off investors in the sector.”

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