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Construction mafia – call it as it is – extortion

UNLOCKING fixed-capital infrastructure projects and aligning legislation should be non-negotiable to all spheres of government if it is serious not only about battling site disruptions but building South Africa out of economic crisis. The same applied to upholding law and order as defined in the relevant legislation when it came to site disruptions and the construction mafia.

So says Deon van Zyl, WCPDF chairperson: “Construction sites are the very foundations on which our economy is built, and stagnation of construction activity in whatever form it takes is the bellwether that indicates how far the economy is fairing. If South Africa is serious about recovery, then we need to flood the construction market with opportunities and, while these seem to exist in abundance in theory, probably no more than one in ten potential projects ever sees the light of day. The impact and further delays caused by the construction mafia has a direct impact on both service delivery and delayed job creation.”

The Construction Mafia was the final straw says Van Zyl with the property development and construction industry already having suffered for decades under often contradictory legislative processes and red tape.

The property development and construction industry in the Western Cape has also been calling for legislated early community engagement to ensure all development projects incorporate pro-active community participation from the time such developments are conceived to ensure that projects are ‘community insulated’ against Construction Mafia opportunism.

“We cannot leave disruptions by the construction mafia or local business forums to a contractor on site to deal with right at the end of the development process. The development process is a marathon, and construction is what happens only during the last, final sprint of the project lifecycle.”

However, it was also time for communities themselves to step up: “These disruptions don’t take place in isolation. It’s time that we also call on civil society – and not just on the contractors who are being disrupted – to report what they know to SAPS.”

A recent seminar organised in the Western Cape by SAFCEC, between high-ranking members of SAPS and industry members informed of the numerous ways in which site disruptions could be reported.

“For the South African justice system to work, there needs to be comprehensive reporting to SAPS, and it’s essential that the right terminology be used: specifically, in this case, the word ‘Extortion’,” says Van Zyl. 

He elaborates further that ‘extortion’ was immediately recognized within the SAPS system as a Schedule 5 Crime: “In other words, where the onus rests not on the person reporting the crime but on the person allegedly accused of the crime to prove, for example, why bail should be granted. Using any other words – ‘disruption’, ‘bribe’, ‘vandalism’ or even ‘theft – are simply not effective. The South African legal system needs key words to trigger reaction.”  

It was pointless for the industry to claim site disruptions to be a massive problem if these were not reported to law enforcement agencies: “A huge fear of intimidation exists, but an important takeaway from the recent Western Cape SAFCEC/SAPS meeting was that incidents can be reported to any SAPS station; not necessarily to the station closest to the disruption.”

Western Cape Emergency SAPS Numbers

At the recent SAFCEC/SAPS meeting, Western Cape industry members had been informed of the dedicated emergency numbers, manned 24/7, that can be phoned to report such crimes in the  province, and from which resources can be dispatched immediately to the site of disruption. These were as follows:

  • Provincial Extortion Hotline – 080 031 4444
  • Provincial Serious Violent Crime – 082 222 6744
  • Provincial Organised Crime – 082 567 5670
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