South Africa

Construction mafias a ‘state of emergency’

In 2020, South Africa’s rampant construction mafias were identified as an issue that should constitute a state of emergency – and the problem has only gotten worse since.

Three years ago, South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors CEO Webster Mfebe said South Africa’s construction mafias are “an issue which would have been a state of emergency if it was in other countries in advanced economies”.

Construction mafias are organised crime groups targeting construction projects across South Africa.

They approach construction companies awarded government tenders or contracted for private construction projects under the guise of a “business forum”.

These “forums” approach the construction companies seemingly in the interest of the local community where the construction is taking place and demand a stake in the contract.

This stake can come in the form of workers on the project and a percentage of the value of the construction contract. If their demands are not met, the “forums” threaten the contractors and their employees and damage the construction projects.

Several projects have been delayed, billions have been lost, and construction companies have been forced to withdraw from projects due to these syndicates.

These forums were highlighted as a significant threat to the country’s construction sector by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018.

At an ANC Business Breakfast, the President said these forums constitute “radical economic robbery” rather than “radical economic transformation”.

Mfebe estimated in 2020 that the mafias had disrupted projects worth over R42 billion. Public Works Minister Sihle Zikwalala recently said this number has grown to more than R68 billion.

The government was recently called upon to address this issue. Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala said the government is making some progress on addressing the problem.

“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 told Newzroom Afrika.

President of the Association of Construction Managers Anthony Afordofe recently told SABC that the government needs a structured approach to solve this problem.

“It’s no longer an issue of the professional team and the contractor on-site, but I think there are some pieces of legislation that need to be put into place to augment the situation,” he said.

Afordofe said that the Association of Construction Managers and its clients – including public and private clients – have started considering allocating a budget for armed security that can man the construction sites 24/7. 

He also suggested that the government deploy the military to guard certain construction sites.

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