A non-new scourge of the construction mafia is taking root throughout the country and posing a serious threat to national stability if not dealt with decisively.
The term refers to groups that organize themselves as local business forums and invade construction sites across the country, demanding money or a stake in development projects. They are also known as “Visions’, which meant giving up his vision just once.
They operate by invading construction sites while heavily armed and extorting 30% of the shares of existing construction companies hired through the bidding process. Sometimes they extort protection money from these companies as a guarantee against further violent disruptions.
In some cases, these groups destroy infrastructure and make it difficult for the project to continue until the owners give in to their demands. They are said to operate under the banner of Radical Economic Transformation. It would not be farfetched to conclude that these groups exist with the tacit approval of some of the ANC leadership.
It is believed that these mafias started in KwaZulu-Natal around 2015 and spread to Gauteng and the rest of the country. Their motivation appears to stem from the passing of new regulations in 2017 of the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act (PPPFA), which stipulate that 30% of all contract value in state building must be allocated to certain specific groups, including black South Africans and women. and people with disabilities.
In their misinterpretation of the texts, these groups also invade the private sector construction. These groups operate illegally and pose a threat to the rule of law. They are hooligans who have sowed terror in businesses across the country.
The recent invasion of the construction mafia took place at Minzi High School in Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal. The project was to build 13 additional classrooms to relieve overcrowding and specialized laboratories in this school, which is known for producing excellent results in the county.
According to Sowetan’s report, the contractor had to abandon the project. The R37 million project was expected to be completed by 2024, which has now been revised to 2025 due to delays. It appears that there were six attempts to obstruct the project by armed gangs demanding 30% of the total cost of the project.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC Public Works Sipho Nkosi visited the school on Tuesday and expressed concern about the disturbances. What is most disturbing is the willingness of the Ministry of Culture to negotiate with these unreasonable gangs.
“We hope to get their names and tell them that the 30 percent they want is through negotiations with the main subcontractor,” he said. It was therefore not surprising that none of the construction mafia members attended the meeting called by the Ministry of Economy and Trade to resolve the impasse. They realize the illegality of their actions and can only thrive in anonymity.
MEC seems not to realize that he is dealing with a criminal gang and not with respectable businessmen. These are criminals who need to be stopped in their tracks before they sow more mayhem. No respectable country can plead and negotiate with criminals who terrorize citizens. This is why the United States and the United Kingdom have a firm stance not to negotiate with terrorists.
Criminals must be caught, tried and convicted to protect the citizens. The construction mafia is clearly intent on establishing a parallel state that undermines the rule of law and state security. To give in to the demands of these gangs would be like feeding a monster that will swallow us all later. So we should not compromise or negotiate with these bad guys.
According to a 2022 report by Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, in 2019 alone, no less than 183 infrastructure and construction projects worth more than 63 billion rupees were affected by these types of disruptions across the country. This is economic sabotage by any account.
It is time for law enforcement to take the lead from the mafia and reaffirm the rule of law by making them see that harassment, violence and extortion are no way to achieve transformation in the construction industry or any other endeavour.