JSE-listed contractor staff held hostage on KZN construction site

Master Builders SA CEO declines to name the company or project involved.
Since 2019, according to a recent report, at least 183 infrastructure and construction projects worth over R63bn have been affected by construction mafia incidents. Image: Shutterstock

A group of gun-toting men held the project manager and employees of a major JSE-listed construction company hostage for almost the entire day last week at a KwaZulu-Natal construction site.

Master Builders South Africa (MBSA) executive director Roy Mnisi confirmed this on Monday, but declined to name the company or project involved.

Read: Construction mafia incidents on the decline – Safcec CEO

Mnisi said it took a number of stakeholders, including the client, the police, the KZN provincial safety department and the contractors to diffuse the situation – but not before the people working on the site “had been traumatised by guns, intimidation and the hostage situation that took almost the whole day”.

“These guys came with big guns and actually assaulted one of the employees who were on site,” said Mnisi.

“As I understand it, the situation was diffused and the people were rescued without any arrests or anybody having sustained any serious bodily injuries.”

Incidents on the decline?

Mnisi stressed that there has not been a decline in the first half of this year in the number of site disruptions or invasions by the so-called construction mafia or business forums, with the bigger projects undertaken by MBSA members more likely to be targeted than smaller projects.

Attempts to obtain comment from SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) CEO Webster Mfebe were unsuccessful.

However, Aubrey Tshalata, president of the National African Federation for the Building Industry, said its members have reported that the number of incidents has subsided.

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Tshalata believes the police and other agencies have taken a more active interest in the activities of the business forums in the construction sector since President’s Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of Nation Address (Sona) in February this year.

Ramaphosa admitted that South Africa needs to confront the criminal gangs that invade construction sites and other business places to extort money from companies.

He said this requires a focused and coordinated response, and government had therefore established specialised multi-disciplinary units to address economic sabotage, extortion at construction sites and vandalism of infrastructure.

Additional policing

Ramaphosa said the government will make resources available to recruit and train an additional 12 000 new police personnel to ensure the Sout African Police Service (SAPS) urgently gets the capacity it needs.

Mnisi said these units may have been created somewhere but this has not been communicated to the industry.

John Matthews, chair of Construction Alliance South Africa (Casa), an umbrella body of 37 South African construction sector associations that was established last year, said Casa had heard nothing further about these specialised policing units since Ramaphosa’s Sona.

Matthews said some Casa members claimed the number of incidents had declined in one province but that activity had increased in another province.

Mnisi said the activities of business forums remains a problem and concern for the construction sector, with incidents at major projects also reported in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

Read: Construction mafia creates crisis by derailing infrastructure projects

He said there is very little to stop the group that invaded the KwaZulu-Natal construction site last week from returning.

He said these groups are incentivised to return because “they know they will get something out of it and there is nothing for them to lose” and that some of the people on construction sites avoid these kinds of challenges by simply paying what is demanded.

The solution?

“There is nothing that actually makes these people desist from these activities. If they get arrested and are punished in terms of the law, it will deter those who want to do similar kinds of things,” said Mnisi.

“These companies are corporate citizens of this country. They are paying tax and deserve to be protected by government but unfortunately that hasn’t been successful.”

Mnisi said Casa had a recent discussion about a proposal to elevate this issue to the presidency to ensure something is done about this problem “failing which class actions against the government” may be considered.

He said Casa has not yet taken any decision on this proposal but believes it may be “one of the ways in which the industry will be able to express its frustration” about these types of incidents.

“The industry cannot afford to have these types of incidents. We don’t have work and there are very few infrastructure projects.

“With the very little that we have, we have these incidents that are continuing to happen unabated. It can’t go on like this,” he said.

Global report on SA’s ‘construction mafia’ problem

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime last month launched a report, ‘Extortion or Transformation: The construction mafia in South Africa’.

The report said the activities of the construction mafia have been fuelled in South Africa by the weak response from the state, which has allowed them to expand their activities.

It said that since 2019 at least 183 infrastructure and construction projects worth more that R63 billion had been affected by these disruptions across the country.

Read: The illegal mining invasion at Thungela Resources is becoming the new normal

“Although national and provincial level government has condemned the actions of business forums, this has not translated into significant action against forums who have invaded construction sites and used violence or the threat of violence to achieve their demands.

“This has created a climate of impunity that has allowed the construction mafia to flourish,” it said.

Recommendations it made to the government, businesses and communities included:

  • For the government to develop a more comprehensive strategy to deal with the problem of systemic corruption;
  • Creation of an environment that will encourage victims of extortion to feel safe enough to report it;
  • Development of strong partnerships between government, business and communities;
  • Partnerships and strategies to address the issue of normalisation of extortion within the construction sector;
  • For the government to address the issue of members of the construction mafia accessing and using illegal firearms;
  • Development of early-warning systems to detect and prevent extortion as it arises; and
  • Development of a comprehensive and equitable approach to infrastructure development while dealing with extortion in the construction sector.

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If these mafia members are carrying firearms, this situation has escalated to a looting spree by localized militia. There is only one solution. This must be met with military force. The state should do its only natural task, to protect the property of citizens and enforce contractual agreements. If they carry illegal military weapons and use them to intimidate and extort law-abiding citizens, they have turned themselves into legitimate targets for the special forces.

Either the consumers, clients, and citizens have rights, or the gun-toting mafia hooligans have rights. Up until now, the state, and the ANC more specifically, has enabled and protected the mafia and has thus nationalized the rights of citizens to be redistributed among criminals. That is exactly what the ANC has been doing for the past 30 years.

You have to be insane not to realise this is a massive sign of collapse , these are warlords. Nothing more nothing less, only way to stop this is for the police and our “society” to stop this “dialogue and diffusion” type of resolution and actively fight back, those people who engage in terrorism , should be punished, not given their will and celebrated by media as a win for society, because there was deliberation .
These groups have no legitimate claim to any gains, yet they come in with guns and suddenly politicians recognise their falsely claimed stake?

Same idea goes for land thiefs , but that is a whole other story, because the ANC backs that , especially in the WC , due to them wanting to change voter demographics . Flood the WC with EC inhabitants , claim everybody has the right to live in SA , displace the colourd majority and presto ! ANC rule to steal the WC dry.

These people are evil.

Taxi Mafia, Construction Mafia, Electricity Mafia it goes on and on….This country is driven by fear…but strangely enough, this government has no fear that taxpayers will stop forking out whilst getting no value for their contributions. How long will the taxpayer ( both personal and Corporate) continue to live like this without a tax revolt! Time for change….

Yip … include the kidnap-ransom mafia, the protection racket mafia which may well be behind the shebeen shootings and you have a country and society verging on anarchy and collapse.

Where SAPS are too afraid to enter no-go areas for fear of their lives.

End of comments.

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