South African government to set up call centre to counteract rampant construction mafia extortion activity

  • The South African government is setting up a call centre to counteract rampant construction mafia extortion activity that is crippling both the public and private construction sector in the country.
  • The platform will allow speedy reporting of such activity which can be quickly reacted upon by authorities.

The announcement was made on Sunday by Public Works and Infrastructure Minister, Sihle Zikalala as a measure to tackle disruptions at construction sites, instigated by the construction mafia.

Dubbed the ‘construction mafia’ in the media, these people 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 massive problem was highlighted in June last year in a report Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime entitled ‘Extortion or Transformation? The construction mafia in South Africa’. The report reveals how the construction mafia operate, their involvement in systemic extortion, and the long-term implications for the construction industry in South Africa.

“To assist the construction sector, we are establishing a call centre for speedy reporting of construction disruptions, and this will support the assigned law enforcement units to this priority crime,” said Zikalala. This will ensure that information would be received as quickly as possible and those who reported disruptions, as well as contractors and their families, would be protected”, added Zikalala.

Recently, at least seven major projects in have been halted by the Cape Town City Council due to safety concerns on site, ranging from the construction of new public transport infrastructure to road reconstruction and stormwater maintenance, primarily in our most vulnerable communities.

“It is completely and utterly unconscionable. I condemn in the strongest possible terms, the sophisticated extortionist syndicates alongside the opportunistic thugs who care nothing for the lives of the communities we are trying to serve, nor those of the hard-working teams attempting to complete these projects on the ground.We remain committed to delivering services. Secondly, I want to assure these criminals that the City and its contractors will not bow to their ludicrous attempts to syphon public capital into their own pockets.We naturally have targets for our capital expenditure, and it is disappointing to be forcibly prevented from meeting those targets, but we do not negotiate with extortionists and there is simply no Rand value for human life,” said the city’s mayoral committee member for urban mobility, councillor Rob Quintas.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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