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16 March 2023

At least 300 arrests have been made in efforts by business and the SAPS to stem extortion and attacks on projects by the local “construction mafia”, although there remains concern the police service is reluctant to open some cases.

According to the National Priority Committee, a collaboration between private sector organisations such as Business Leadership SA and the SAPS, there were encouraging convictions and recorded sentences, as it prioritises advocacy for the business community to put an end to the scourge.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime said there were no less than 183 infrastructure and construction projects worth over R63 billion struggling with protection rackets.

“We are concerned regarding SAPS customer support centres not being ready to record extortion cases. Victims allege that cases are not opened against high-profile perpetrators. Operational support in rural areas is difficult.

“The eruption of highly violent activities (murder and harm to workers) to prove that the threat is real is devastating,” said Roelof Viljoen, national projects manager at Business Against Crime SA, a division of the Business Leadership SA.

He said business was being provided with knowledge and operational support through the “Eyes and Ears” initiative, which was a procedure guiding the activities of law enforcement involving essential infrastructure task teams in 18 SAPS districts and provincial organised crime investigation task teams that investigated these specialist cases.

Victims were encouraged to improve their reporting rate (for example, no actual harm is required for the crime, and it is enough if there is just a threat and a demand) and record facts during interactions with suspects.

“The eThekwini metro police have been very effective. (Business Against Crime SA) employees in KwaZulu-Natal have been successful in encouraging victims to report incidents,” said Viljoen.

Lindie Fourie, operations manager at the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry, said the increased collaboration, including the use of the Eyes and Ears initiative was a welcome development.

“They are able to engage and are able to discuss the reports from various areas. It is imperative the initiatives are done with the collaboration of the SAPS,” Fourie said.

Recent incidents in Cape Town had resulted in the death of a construction executive who was shot at the Symphony Way Housing Project construction site.

The Western Cape Property Development Forum’s Deon van Zyl said this was a key reason why the construction sector had contracted.

“The construction industry has shrunk 25% over the last five years. The major reason for the shrinkage in the construction industry can be laid at the door of government, and all three spheres of government – national, provincial, and local – that have not been spending their capital budgets.” Construction at the Beacon Valley housing project in Mitchells Plain had also been affected. Two civil contracts worth R140 million were cancelled in 2021 following a petrol-bombing, shootings and intimidation. Four workers were injured.

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