Urgent intervention is needed to protect infrastructure projects, investor confidence and the safety of professionals in the built environment, Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS) member Yunus Bayat said on Friday, in response to reports of widespread “construction mafia” and gang-related activities on construction sites.
“The Delangokubona Business Forum continues to intimidate foremen, project managers and construction bosses by going onto project sites and demanding a stake in their projects.
“As professionals working on these projects, we cannot protect ourselves from this type of violent intimidation and we are no match for the automatic weapons that they bring with them,” said Bayat.
He explained that on Monday, February 18, the Black Business Council in the Built Environment (BBCBE) had issued a letter to Police Minister General Bheki Cele to request an appointment to discuss the illegal stoppages of construction projects across the country.
In the letter, the BBCBE noted that its members who are engaged in construction activity are subjected to victimisation and work stoppages on a daily basis as a result of local business forums demanding participation in projects.
He also pointed to the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) having issued an urgent plea for action from Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on March 18.
In the letter sent to Mboweni, Safcec said that it was “gravely” concerned that construction projects worth at least R25.5-billon were being violently disrupted and halted in South Africa.
“Armed gangs demanded to be part of the R1.65-billion South African National Roads Agency Limited’s [Mtentu] bridge project, in the Eastern Cape. These illegal site disruptions caused Aveng and the Europe-based Strabag International to pull out of the project,” Bayat explained.
He noted that while the gang activities were reported to the police and interdicts were obtained, the disruptors were released shortly thereafter.
He further pointed out that, on March 13, a R2.4-billion German oil storage investment project being built by WBHO, in Saldanha, in the Western Cape, was halted after armed gangs arrived on site.
“The gangs demanded to be part of the project and burned the properties to the ground. The pictures of the scene look like footage from a war zone. Again, police were called, but they only arrived hours later and said the issue had to be handed over to the Paarl police station,” Bayat noted. He added that contractors, [female] engineers and other staff had to “run for their lives into the veld”.
Further, “the response from the South African Police [Service] simply isn’t good enough anymore,” he asserted.
Safcec on March 20 said its CEO Webster Mfebe had escalated the matter to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
It stressed that the current crisis facing the South African construction industry is “regrettable and is hereby condemned in the strongest possible terms as it is an antithesis to the collective efforts of embarking on a renewal and rebuilding path for South Africa”.
The organisation is awaiting government's response.
“The ASAQS is calling on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and local police to address the situation. A strong and solid intervention is needed and it should be seen as a top priority for everyone in the built environment and government,” Bayat stated.
Concurring with the plea from Safcec, as well as the concerns highlighted by ASAQS, South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP) registrar Moroka Isaac Butcher Matutle on Friday noted that construction sites face "countless" challenges, including those pertaining to project deadlines, on site safety and maintaining the highest standards.
"It is nothing short of a public menace and an outrage to add what can best be described as thuggery to these professional environments."
Matutle stressed that "the SACPCMP supports the calls to the Ministry of Police and NPA to urgently and immediately address the reported criminal ‘gang-related’ activities to ensure stability within the construction and project management environments".