Construction mafia derailing projects causes engineers to flee

Construction mafia derailing projects causes engineers to flee

On Wednesday, 13 March 2019, a R2.4bn German oil storage investment project that is being constructed by WBHO in Saldanha, Western Cape, was halted after armed gangs arrived on site.

Widespread concern has spread like wildfire across the built environment due to the construction mafia and gang-related activities on project sites. Yunus Bayat from the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS) says that a major intervention is needed to protect infrastructure projects, investor confidence, and the safety of professionals in the built environment who are working on project 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 AK-47 automatic weapons that they bring with them,” says Bayat.

Construction projects worth R25,5bn+ are being violently disrupted and halted

On 18 March 2019, the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (SAFCEC) issued an urgent plea for action from the Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni. In the letter, the SAFCEC said that it is gravely concerned that construction projects worth a minimum of R25,5bn are being violently disrupted and halted in South Africa.

Armed gangs demanded to be part of the R1,65bn SANRAL Bridge Project in the Eastern Cape. These illegal site disruptions caused AVENG and the European-based Strabag International to pull out of the project, which forms part of the N2 Wild Coast Road Construction project,” continues Bayat.

While the gang activities were reported to the police and interdicts were obtained, the disruptors were released shortly thereafter. On Wednesday, 13 March 2019, a R2.4bn German oil storage investment project that is being constructed by WBHO in Saldanha, Western Cape, was halted after armed gangs arrived on site.

The project site pictures look like a war zone”

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 that the issue had to be handed over to the Paarl police station. Contractors, female engineers, and other staff had to run for their lives into the veld. The response from the South African Police Force simply isn’t good enough anymore,” says Bayat.

On Monday, 18 February, the Black Business Council in the Built Environment (BBCBE) issued a letter to Minister General Bheki Cele from the Ministry of Police to request an appointment to discuss the illegal stoppages of construction projects across the country. In the letter, the BBCBE says that their members who are engaged in construction activity are subjected to victimization and work stoppages on a daily basis due to local business forums demanding participation in projects.

The ASAQS is calling on the National Prosecuting Authority and local police services 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,” concludes Bayat.

How Durban’s ‘building mafia’ operate

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.

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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.”