How Durban’s ‘building mafia’ operate
The workforce at one of the Cornubia construction sites was sent home this year as representatives of the so-called construction ‘Mafia’ arrived to make their demands.
Durban – Derrick Ndlovu never imagined that in his 11 years in the construction business he would one day have to walk around with a gun tucked into a hip holster and to carry extra bullets in his pocket.
This is the reality construction company foremen and managers are facing as a group dubbed the Construction Mafia continue to harass and intimidate managers at construction sites around Durban.
Ndlovu works for Stefcon Projects at an uMhlanga Ridge construction site.
He was recently assaulted on the shoulder with a steel pole at the site. Two days later, his bakkie was shot at while he was driving from his Melmoth home.
Three days later, he received a death threat via SMS.
At least eight men had initially arrived at the site in several cars demanding sub-contract work. Ndlovu was in a meeting with 180 of his workforce when the men barged on to the site.
They threatened to kill the guard if he did not open the gate, then walked on to the site and confronted Ndlovu.
“They accused me of employing my friends. One swung a pole at me with the intention to strike me over the head. I ducked and the pole struck my shoulder.
“The workers on the site felt threatened and intimidated and fought back. The men fled,” he said. But it did not end there as more men showed up and began intimidating workers and staff in the presence of police.
Calvin Wright, a director of Stefcon Projects, said he tried to intervene and asked the men what the purpose of the assault to his site manager was.
They threatened Wright and told him they would stop work on his sites if he did not give them the work they wanted.
Wright requested details of the association the men represented and their reply was “don’t worry (about) who we are, we demand radical transformation and we want 30% of the work on this contract or we have our own way to deal with matters”.
Wright claimed that they threatened to stop all work and to “sort Ndlovu out”.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said employees were at the construction site when a group of men allegedly assaulted the foreman.
Gwala said the motive of the attack was unknown. A case of public violence and common assault was opened at the Durban North police station. There have been no arrests.
Wright said he still did not know which group the men represented. The group were driving around the sites intimidating workers.
Ndlovu said that after the confrontation, he had booked into a hotel because he was scared to drive home.
“The men found out and were loitering outside the hotel. I have not slept in two nights. I fear for my life.
“My wife and I had to stay at my director’s home the following night,” he said.
The SMS to Ndlovu’s phone, from an unknown person, in Zulu translated to English, stated that he was giving subcontracted jobs to his friends and they had enough secrets to expose him.
It said they were not willing to let go of the situation and that since the foreman and the workers had attacked them, “we are looking for revenge. It means that if someone has to lose their life, so be it.”
Wright believes the group had informers at each construction site. “The group claimed we hired workers from other countries and did not employ people from the local community. The Department of Labour has since done an inspection and their allegations were proven wrong. The group said I should pay them the money instead of hiring armed guards and they would stop intimidating and threatening me on site,” Wright said.
Armed guards are stationed inside and outside the site.
Wright said he had given jobs to a previous group which claimed to belong to a business forum and which had intimidated and threatened him on a project in South Beach.
However, the quality of work was substandard.
“They could not plaster walls properly. Every fortnight, they demanded more money and did not want to repair any of their unacceptable work.
“I am afraid that some companies are using their workforce purely to avoid getting their jobs stopped and hijacked.
“How can one reach any commercial agreement when you have a party that is not willing to co-operate, demands premiums on rates, delivers sub-standard work and cannot abide by the health and safety regulations governing our industry? We are on tight schedules and work for hardly any margins and yet we are expected to pay ‘middlemen’ to avoid having our sites shut down,” Wright said.
“All our staff come from an area not more than a 10km radius from uMhlanga. Most walk home and feel unsafe.
“We are not going to be dictated to about who we must employ when we already employ local community members who are all legal residents of South Africa. We simply cannot employ thugs who demand unreasonable payment for poor quality workmanship.”