Criminal mafia activity escalates in South Africa

 ·26 Nov 2023

Organised crime is escalating in South Africa as criminal mafias reportedly get more brazen and threaten high-profile officials in the country.

According to the Sunday Times, alleged aggressors linked to known crime bosses in Cape Town this week threatened city officials in their offices, brazenly showing up in broad daylight and demanding the city hand over R500 million worth of contracts to associated companies.

The paper said that the alleged gangsters threatened violence, saying that more murders – similar to those which have recently taken place on construction sites – will continue unless their demands are met. A case of intimidation has been opened with the SAPS.

This latest case is an escalation of criminal activity in the construction sector, which has become a feeding ground for so-called “construction mafias”.

These criminal networks often pose as legitimate businesses that demand contracts or subcontracts on jobs, failing which they resort to threats, extortion, disruption and violence. The demands are often made on the premise that 30% of contracts should go to “local businesses”.

This tactic is not only reserved for the construction sector, however, with the agriculture sector also increasingly falling victim to organised crime.

Growing crisis

The Global Organized Crime Index 2023 revealed that South Africa is one of the worst countries in the world regarding organised crime.

The index showed that organised crime is rising globally, with 83% of the world’s population living in conditions of high criminality.

South Africa has performed particularly poorly, with both criminality and resilience scores worsening over the past year.

South Africans now experience worse criminal activity than countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.

Mafia-style groups are well-armed, and their operations are associated with a high level of violence.

These groups typically emerge in geographically and topographically defined contexts before spreading more widely after achieving success.

While gangs are prominent in Cape Town and the Western Cape, they can also be found in pockets in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Durban.

The construction mafia in particular has engaged in violent disruptions of construction sites and extortion of protection fees from businesses.

Certain business forum groups have clear links to political players, with some accused of acting as surrogates for certain politicians, the report found.

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala recently revealed that construction mafias cost the economy around R68 billion.

This is because these mafias delay construction projects, and, in some cases, companies have been forced to withdraw from projects.

A recent World Bank study found that rampant crime in South Africa is costing the country at least 10% of its gross domestic product (over R640 billion) annually and exacerbating already stark income inequality.

Read: Criminal mafias leave nothing untouched in South Africa – not even avocados

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