The construction industry believes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s hard line against violence and threats will assist the industry in dealing with the disruption of construction sites by business forums.
However, the road freight industry is not optimistic that Ramaphosa’s stance will lead to a crackdown on the criminals responsible for the frequent attacks on trucks and the looting and burning of trucks.
In an address on Sunday, Ramaphosa stressed that “anyone who threatens or engages in violence will face consequences”.
Ramaphosa’s comments were made in the context of the widespread unrest and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Road Freight Association CEO Gavin Kelly said 250 trucks, of which about 45 were large trucks, were set alight and destroyed during the most recent unrest and looting.
Kelly said the cost to the trucking industry was about R500 million in terms of destroyed assets and cargo.
Attacks on trucks not a new problem
However, Kelly said there has been a spate of attacks on trucks during the past three years, including attacks related to a protest about foreign truck drivers.
But Kelly said many attacks on trucks had nothing to do with the freight industry and were instead related to service delivery issues and other protests in areas around the country.
“For the last three years at least, I have been saying to the SA Police Service and government that they need to deal with this because it’s common criminality,” he said.
Kelly said only a very small percentage of the damage caused to trucks in protests was because of discontent with the freight industry.
Where is the action?
Kelly said nothing has come out of the freight industry’s engagements with the SA Police Service and there has not been any legal deterrent to stop these acts despite drivers being burnt to death in their trucks and being shot at.
“Nobody has been arrested for murder and nobody has been brought to court on those charges and been sentenced,” said Kelly.
“The most we saw was at the one time 25 people were arrested for public violence but nobody was arrested for incitement – and they know who those perpetrators are.”
In regard to Ramaphosa’s specific statement, Kelly said “hope springs eternal, I suppose”.
“Let’s see whether he is going to ensure that that happens. I am not absolutely convinced but things might change.”
‘All the hallmarks of crime’
Master Builders South Africa (MBSA) executive director Roy Mnisi said the approach and modus operandi of the people who illegally invade construction sites have “all the hallmarks of crime in the form of intimidation, destruction of property, arson and so on”.
Mnisi believes this conduct falls squarely within the ambit of what Ramaphosa spoke about.
“We hope we will start seeing some improvement in so far as those attacks are concerned,” he said.
Mnisi said it is difficult to gauge the extent to which construction sites are being disrupted at this point in time because of the recent turmoil, violence and destruction.
This makes it difficult to differentiate between the spate of violence in the past two weeks and the invasion of construction sites.
Construction sites continue to be invaded
However, Mnisi said MBSA still receives messages from its members from time to time indicating that their employees are being intimidated, threatened and removed from sites.
Mnisi said MBSA received reports of two incidents last week, one in Gauteng and the other in Mpumalanga.
SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) CEO Webster Mfebe said Ramaphosa’s statement will apply generally to anybody who is not abiding by the law and engages in acts of violence but Safcec has not been informed of any violent disruptions of construction sites that were linked to the recent violence and unrest.
He stressed that if there were any incidents, Safcec has established channels to engage with the structures of business forums to intervene in such situations.
Mfebe said Safcec has a written undertaking from the Black Business Federation that the federation will work with Safcec in particular in trying to end disruptions on site.
“This is very progressive and a milestone in bringing peace and stability to construction sites,” he said.
Mfebe said when construction sites are now disrupted, a rival business forum is involved and the federation contacts the people involved and mediates to make them stop disrupting the site.
He said the federation’s members are competing to get involved in projects and are negatively affected when construction sites are disrupted.
Mfebe stressed that the understanding with the federation is that any sub-contracting is subject to the subcontractor having the competence to do the job or else it will be fronting.
Exacerbating the issues of extortion
He said it is illegal to give an incompetent person a contract and this would also exacerbate the issues of extortion because it will mean that those companies are contracting “just to be allowed to continue and not get disrupted”.
“This is something all of us should frown upon,” he said.
Mfebe said he has pleaded with Safcec members to take into consideration that there are local businesses in local communities that have an interest in participating in projects.
“They must pay particular attention to this and not be accused of bringing in people from outside those areas when those small contractors are there,” he said.
Mfebe confirmed there have been isolated reports of construction sites in Mpumalanga being disrupted.
He said Safcec has instructed its members to report any disruptions to the police and get case numbers to allow Safcec to escalate these incidents to the national police office and follow up on these cases.
However, Mfebe admitted some Safcec members, for fear of reprisals, do not want to report incidents to the police and want “to rather wait and see and try and negotiate on their own and on their terms”.
“This is a dangerous path because if that happens, it then opens contractors to abuse.
“We cannot condone violence of any kind and it has been made very clear to the business forums that Safcec will speak to its members to consider any deserving local business provided there is no violence and any kind of extortion involved.
“If that happens, then we are not on the same wavelength,” he said.
“But I think we have gone past that stage because they have demonstrated to us in the past, when we asked them to intervene in disruptions, they have effectively intervened.”