Fight against construction mafia in South Africa gaining significant ground

  • The Infrastructure Built Anti-Corruption Forum (IBACF) has welcomed the progress made by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and other law enforcement agencies on the progress made to crackdown on the construction mafia.

The IBACF was formed in 2020 and is aimed at monitoring infrastructure projects and putting systems in place to detect and prevent corruption.

The country wide problem was highlighted by a report authored by Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime entitled ‘Extortion or Transformation? The construction mafia in South Africa’.The report, released in 2021, reveals how the construction mafia operate, their involvement in systemic extortion, and the long-term implications for the construction industry in South Africa.

Dubbed the ‘construction mafia’ in the media, these criminals have organized themselves into groups known as ‘local business forums’ and invaded construction sites across the country, demanding money or a stake in development projects in what can arguably be described as systemic extortion. These activities have been fuelled by the weak response from the state, allowing them to expand their activities. In 2019, at least 183 infrastructure and construction projects worth more than R63 billion had been affected by these disruptions across the country. Since then, invasions have continued at construction sites across South Africa. 

The forum comprises civil society, representatives from the built environment and various arms of government, including the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said hundreds of arrests have been made relating to illegal practices in construction.

“There are ongoing investigations in the sector by various law enforcement agencies that have led to consequence management such as asset recovery, disciplinary action, and criminal prosecution.

“It is against this background that the IBACF welcomes and congratulates the SAPS on their progress in addressing the construction sector mafia in South Africa. The SAPS has confirmed that the 712 cases referred for investigation have resulted in 722 arrests and 52 convictions so far,” Kganyago said.

According to Kganyago, at a recent meeting of the IBACF, the National Priority Committee on Extortion and Violence at Economic Sites reported that “the fight against fraud, corruption, and maladministration in the construction sector is gaining significant ground”.

Related news: Construction mafia infiltrates Cape Town hijacking city construction projects 

“A notable recent arrest has been that of alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield and his wife, Nicole Johnson. Several Cape Town construction contractors had to abandon government housing construction sites following alleged acts of intimidation and violence.

“Thereafter, the Western Cape government’s Human Settlements Department awarded Johnson’s company, Glomix House Brokers, the contracts for completing these abandoned projects,” the SIU said.

Kganyago explained that the construction mafia refers to groups of extortionists who attempt to forcefully extract protection fees from local construction companies and contractors or extort a portion of the cost of an infrastructure project, including specific individuals affiliated with the mafia being recruited to work on the site.

“The construction sector is one of the most important job-creating sectors in the country. Investment in the sector not only benefits the country through improved infrastructure but creates hundreds of thousands of jobs on construction sites and throughout the construction sector value chain.”

Community involvement

The SIU called on community members to report any illegality on construction sites.

“The IBACF encourages proactive community engagement to inform residents of the projects underway in their areas; of possible opportunities for legitimate sub-contractors and workers, and encourages all South Africans, who are aware of any criminal actions such as threats of violence or extortion that may lead to the loss of such projects and work opportunities, to report these crimes,” the SIU said.

Crimes of this nature can be reported to:

  • Any South African Police Service (SAPS) station;
  • The toll-free National Anti-Corruption Hotline on 0800 701 701;
  • The Presidential Hotline on 17737 or email president@po.gov.za, and
  • The SIU Hotline on 0800 037 774.

“As the SAPS report back on arrests and convictions, we warn the public that there are consequences for people who engage in illegal activities within the construction sector. The IBACF thanks the whistleblowers and law enforcement agencies for their bravery and tremendous efforts in tackling these criminal matters,” Kganyago concluded.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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