‘Crisis mafias’ are thriving in South Africa

 ·16 May 2024

Water mafias are spreading across the country, sabotaging the already ailing infrastructure to cash in, while similar mafias already operate in the electricity and construction industries.

In October last year, expert and University of the Free State professor Dr Anthony Turton noted that water shortages in several provinces – caused by the neglect of deteriorating infrastructure – created a perfect storm for tanker mafias taking advantage of the chaos.

He highlighted instances of a thriving tanker mafia in KZN that sabotages the water infrastructure to continue and prolong their contracts with the municipalities to provide water across communities that go days without water.

Turton further noted that there are major mafias operating in Pretoria as a result of the Hammanskraal cholera outbreak, as well as in parts of the Free State, where there is a major sewage mafia.

This mafia operates in a similar manner, sabotaging the infrastructure to secure pumping and maintenance tenders.

What’s worse, Turton explained that these acts of sabotage are occurring at critical points, suggesting that some public workers in the municipalities are complicit.

Parliament’s Water and Sanitation Portfolio Committee chairperson Robert Mashego agreed with Turton, noting that these mafia groups have become a notable concern across several provinces, not just KZN.

“Water tankers have become big business. In fact, several municipalities have reported that these criminal groups have threatened them when maintenance teams go out to repair damage to the infrastructure,” said Mashego.

Due to the flourishing business of these Mafias, when asked if he is aware of any municipal workers being involved, Mashego said it can’t be ruled out.

Concerningly, Mashego revealed that he, too, had been threatened by the mafia groups multiple times after visits to various sites to ensure the proper processes were being followed.

“They’ve said to me, we’ve heard to talk of stopping things [use of tankers], so don’t come here again; this is our business,” he said.

Mashego noted that dozens of incidents involving these mafia groups across multiple sectors have been reported to the Minister of Police, who promised focus will be directed on the proliferation of these mafias.

Turton warned that the spike in these mafias is a concern because the bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity for the syndicates.

The evidence of their proliferation is that these groups are embedded in all major sectors, including Eskom, Transnet, and the construction industry.

The CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), Busi Mavuso, previously warned that organised crime is fast emerging as the biggest threat to South Africa’s economy.

Mavuso said that crime syndicates, which have already captured large industries across various sectors, are now more damaging than bad policy or service delivery failures.

“We are in the grip of an epidemic with large industries from mining to construction being targeted by extortion rackets. This is undermining all of our efforts to build a country and grow the economy,” she said.

Read: This is what top police officials get paid in South Africa

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