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Construction mafia extortion – City responds

By Sue Segar

IN the wake of ongoing threats and intimidation by “mafia-style extortionists” at construction sites in and around Cape Town, the City’s Urban Mobility department is considering procuring heavy tactical response vehicles to ensure the safety of the sites. This is according to the City’s mayoral committee member for Urban Mobility, Roberto Quintas.

In an interview with CBN, Quintas said this procurement will involve large unbudgeted capital expenses –  the cost of which will have to be borne by tax and ratepayers.

At least seven key transport infrastructure projects in the City, valued at about R58.6 million have been delayed or come to a standstill because of threats and intimidation by these “construction  mafia” extortionists.

“We may need these response vehicles to be able to access our sites under construction, so that we can have law enforcement on the ground, and dedicated just to Urban Mobility,” Quintas said.

“This would not be for the City Safety and Security directorate – although it would be managed by them in terms of personnel. The vehicles would potentially be procured from Urban Mobility’s capital budget, with the sole purpose of protecting our sites. It’s insane that we have to consider going that far.” 

“We are being forced to strongly consider additional capital and operational expenditure just to keep our construction projects moving.”

He continued: “One has to steal from Peter to pay Paul which means that, whatever the cost – capital, operational and salaries expenditure – results in less available for other projects. This might include critical projects, like road repair or potholes.”

Countrywide intimidation

The Western Cape is not the only region to experience these threats. In an attempt to redirect public money into their own pockets, a growing extortion “mafia” is crippling many construction projects around the country, and, in some cases, killing people if their threats, intimidation, and bribes are not met.

Projects on behalf of the City’s Mobility Department that have been halted or stopped due to extortion include a roads resealing and stormwater repairs project in Delft; the upgrading of roads in Bishop Lavis; the Walter Sisulu/Lindela roundabout in Khayelitsha, a road rehabilitation project in Kalksteenfontein; traffic calming measures in Brooklyn; construction of new MyCiTi depots in Spine Road, Mew Way in Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain. Quintas said a safety and security task team in Executive Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis’s office is currently working with the SA Police Services to try and build up “the necessary files of evidence” for charges to be laid at particular alleged extortionists, “so that cases can be made, followed by arrests, and, hopefully, prosecution, and then some form of consequence.

“The office of the Executive Mayor has experience across multiple directorates. It’s not only urban mobility. The departments of Solid Waste, Water and Sanitation, Electricity and Energy as well as Human Settlements, are all experiencing these incidents of attempted extortion at various levels.

“Sometimes, it is local opportunists trying to take advantage of small projects – literally the people living in the vicinity who begin to threaten, intimidate, and stop works because they want opportunities to work on the project. Then it goes all the way through to the big stuff which impacts our large projects.

“These so-called concerned ‘residents groups’ or ‘development forums’ or ‘business forums’ arrive and disrupt and try and negotiate with the City and/or the contractor to make allowances for additional scopes of work, be it at sub-contractor level or just for more people on the ground.

“People often masquerade as concerned groups, but there is an attempt to extort, intimidate, or harass their way onto a project. And it goes all the way down to  locals who are just going to interrupt works in the hope of getting an opportunity to work.

“In my own experience as a ward councillor for Hout Bay, we had quite a few instances where locals tried to muscle their way onto projects. That happens a lot and it is seldom reported because it’s not necessarily very well organised, unlike the almost legalistic type of correspondences and threats that we receive.

“Then of course there is the uglier side where armed people arrive, hold up everyone on site, telling them not to come back unless they take a certain group or a gang onto the project.”

Quintas said the construction extortion situation is “not at a stage yet where it has completely crippled service delivery. But it is bad enough to be seriously impacting the building and maintenance of important infrastructure projects.”

He believes there should be a special task team, at national level, that looks at the matter. “This should be an urgent priority for the Police Minister, the Minister of State Security and the Minister for Public Works,” he said.

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