Murder and mayhem in South African construction industry

The attempted murder of a Stefanutti Stocks boss highlighted the danger of working in the South African construction industry plagued by mafia involvement.

Last week, News24 reported that Stefanutti Stocks coastal manager Matthew Horwill survived an assassination attempt close to his office.

The criminals sprayed his Toyota Land Cruiser with bullets, during which he suffered a gunshot wound in his arm.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Robert Netshiunda said a case of attempted murder has been opened.

There is widespread speculation that the hit pointed to the construction mafia, which is very active in KwaZulu-Natal.

Construction mafias are organisations that go to construction sites and extort money from contractors, subcontractors, and developers.

They do so on the premise that there is a legislative requirement that 30% of public sector projects must be subcontracted to local participants.

However, it goes far beyond local participation in construction projects. Construction mafias have evolved into organised crime groups.

Alan Fuchs, DA Gauteng spokesperson on infrastructure development, said they use intimidation and scare tactics to extort a percentage of a company’s contract.

Fuchs said that “there’s no question” that these mafias have been the cause of several assaults and murders.

It is common for construction mafia members to walk onto a construction site and demand to see the site manager.

In some cases, the criminals are armed with AK47s. “They put their automatic weapons on the table and say discussions should start,” Fuchs said.

They demand a percentage of the project value to provide approved business partners, workers, and protection services.

“If you decline this extortion and criminal activity, your life is at risk. There is no question about that,” he said.

Apart from threatening managers’ lives, the mafias also disrupt the operations of projects whose owners refused to pay them an extortion fee.

“The unfortunate situation is that it happens across the country. We have had numerous projects which have been stopped,” Fuchs said.

Construction mafias cost South Africa R68 billion

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala revealed that construction mafias cost the economy around R68 billion.

This is because these mafias delay construction projects, and, in some cases, companies have been forced to withdraw from projects.

Gauteng Human Settlements MEC Lebogang Maile said these criminal networks have caused havoc in the province, delaying and even scrapping multiple construction projects.

Maile said that while construction mafias are better known for operating in KwaZulu-Natal, they are also a big problem in Gauteng.

“They’re everywhere. You even have people who have been killed, and some of the service providers or contractors that we appoint have abandoned the projects,” he said.

JSE-listed construction company Wilson Bayly Holmes (WBHO) called on the government to swiftly deal with the construction mafia.

WBHO chairman Louwtjie Nel said South Africa urgently needed to prioritise upholding the rule of law.

“We strongly urge the government to combat the growing tide of criminal extortion and corruption affecting South Africa’s construction sector,” he said.

“This issue requires immediate attention. Despite numerous initiatives, many in conjunction with the government, to address this scourge, it still persists.”

Government fighting back

KwaZulu-Natal Public Works and Infrastructure MEC Martin Meyer

Minister Zikalala said the government is progressing toward addressing the problems in the South African construction industry.

“We’ve got more than 682 cases that are currently being investigated, and we’ve got 72 people who have been arrested and are currently being prosecuted for this,” Zikalala said.

MDA Attorneys director Euan Massey said several initiatives are underway to address this issue, including the Public Procurement Bill, which is currently open for public comment.

This legislation addresses several issues, including the percentage of local participation and requiring organisations to do their due diligence on companies involved in construction.

Zikalala has also implemented two other initiatives. The first is a social facilitation unit to assist with facilitating and communicating with local communities.

The second is a specialised organised crime detective services unit to investigate extortion, racketeering and similar crimes.

While the industry’s response to these initiatives has been lukewarm, Massey said it is “good to finally have the government’s interest and participation in these pressing issues”.

KwaZulu-Natal Public Works and Infrastructure MEC Martin Meyer said he will not buckle to demands from the construction mafia.

He told Sunday World that he is prepared to engage with legitimate businesspeople, but I will not be bullied or coerced.

He is ready to deal with organised crime groups who destabilise construction projects in the province.

“We would not allow lawlessness and crime to reign supreme. We will work closely with the community safety department and police to maintain law and order,” said Meyer.