Criminal mafias hit Cape Town

 ·29 Feb 2024

Extortion is harming Cape Town’s local economy as large-scale building projects continue to battle so-called ‘construction mafias’ – costing the city millions of rands – while individuals have to deal with other gangs.

At least seven major urban mobility projects in Cape Town have been halted due to site safety concerns.

“We [Cape Town] have had several instances that have resulted in major setbacks in big public transport projects,” said Cape Town’s Urban Mobility MMC Rob Quintas.

He added these instances of extortion attempts by construction mafias started in all seriousness from around the middle of last year, which included the murder of a contractor’s worker.

The construction mafia refers to groups of extortionists who attempt to forcefully extract protection fees from local construction companies and contractors or extort a portion of the cost of an infrastructure project, including specific individuals affiliated with the mafia being recruited to work on the site.

“This has scared off contractors from completing and doing business in the City, and rightly so,” said Quintas. He noted this is still a massive concern, with reports of extortion attempts still coming in.

Mafias are hijacking construction sites across South Africa, costing the economy billions.

During the Big Five Africa Construction Summit last year, Public Works Minister Sihle Zikwalala said that construction mafias are majorly disrupting construction companies that aim to finish projects.

Zikalala said that according to government data, backlogs and hindrances on construction sites due to mafias have cost the South African economy more than R68 billion across 186 projects.

A case of public projects being stalled by mafias was seen in the City of Cape Town in June 2023 when projects worth R58.7 million were halted due to threats by ‘mafia-style” extortionists.

Quintas added that Cape Town and its contractors are being held ransom, ultimately negatively affecting service delivery and the local economy.

Concerningly, it is not only the big projects that are being affected. There are reports of unemployed people trying to create work for themselves through the sale of street foods and snacks being extorted by gangs for R1,000 a month to be able to operate.

The SAPS said that tackling extortion in the Western Cape remains a top priority, and dedicated task teams have made several arrests since last year, while there are many more cases under investigation.

Nationally, the SAPS confirmed that the 712 cases referred for investigation have resulted in 722 arrests and 52 convictions.

“It is against this background that the Infrastructure Built Anti-Corruption Forum (IBACF) welcomes and congratulates the SAPS on their progress in addressing the construction sector mafia in South Africa,” said SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago.

He added that the construction sector’s fight against fraud, corruption, and maladministration is gaining significant ground.

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