Construction mafia here to stay in South Africa – be prepared

 ·30 Mar 2024

“Extortion in the construction sector has reached worryingly high levels, derailing and delaying projects worth billions of rands… [but] with no signs of this trend reversing, construction firms should build extortion preparation and best practices into their planning ahead of every project.”

This is the view presented by the national project manager of Business Against Crime South Africa (BACSA), Roelof Viljoen who said that ‘construction mafias/extortion groups’ have seemingly become engrained in South Africa, and construction firms need to “plan for the worst.”

Executive director at Masters Builders Association North, Mohau Mphomela, agreed with this, saying that it is cause for serious concern that extortion has become so widespread in the country that construction firms now view it as yet another routine challenge.


According to the State Investigating Unit (SIU), the “construction mafia refers to extortion groups that typically seek to forcefully extract protection fees from local construction companies and contractors or extort a portion of the cost of an infrastructure project or that specific individuals affiliated with the mafia are recruited to work on the site,” – estimated to cost the economy around R68 billion.

Viljoen said that “extortion as a crime requires two factors: the demand for a benefit such as money, work or a contract, as well as a threat of damage or harm to individuals, should the demand not be met.”

“Some of these syndicates are highly organised and linked to legitimate businesses or even highly connected individuals in the community,” which could make local law enforcement slow to react to complaints added Viljoen.

As a result, some construction companies pay off extortionists for uninterrupted business, but Viljoen said that this is a “short-term solution,” as it creates a precedent that risks future demands and implies company complicity.

What construction firms should do

Viljoen says that developers and contractors need to anticipate potential extortion at all sites. He recommends training employees and increasing awareness about the proper steps to take if faced with extortion attempts.

BACSA has developed guidelines for preparing for extortion groups:

  1. Create and document safety procedures for extortion attempts;
  2. For private projects, display a notice that preferential procurement regulations do not apply and for public projects, show compliance with these regulations;
  3. Keep documentation on-site to verify compliance;
  4. Prioritize hiring local subcontractors to involve the community;
  5. Deny Business Forums access to the site for preferential procurement discussions;
  6. Clarify that on-site personnel cannot make procurement decisions;
  7. Stress the illegality of subcontracting without following a bidding and tender process;
  8. Establish a safe area for employees, preferably away from entrances, and ensure an alternative exit is available;
  9. Install CCTV if possible and use cellphones to record any unscheduled interactions as evidence of potential crimes;
  10. Report all extortion incidents to BACSA, the Police, and possibly through the Eyes and Ears Initiative for a coordinated crime-fighting response;
  11. Record every extortion incident as a crime with the Police, noting that reporting can be done outside the local station;
  12. Follow BAC guidelines for prosecuting extortion cases in court.

“The key is to identify a possible incident before it starts escalating,” explained Viljoen.

“This form of crime increases the costs of doing business for our members and puts businesses and jobs at risk,” said Mphomela.

“We commend Business Against Crime for coming up with these guidelines, and we urge all members to consider them when preparing to deal with construction extortion,” he added.

Read: Criminal mafias hit Cape Town

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