Public Works is cracking down on ‘construction mafia’ head-on

Minister Sihle Zikalala to establish social intervention unit. Photographer: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Minister Sihle Zikalala to establish social intervention unit. Photographer: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 30, 2024


The department of Public Works and Infrastructure has taken a bold step to stamp out extortion, intimidation and criminality in the construction industry.

The department has established a social intervention unit to facilitate and spread awareness about construction projects in communities before they commence.

This was to ensure that the department curbed and dealt with extortion in the construction industry.

Minister Sihle Zikalala said the unit’s priority was to craft a method to allow local communities to participate legally in construction projects in their localities.

“We have also strengthened the rule of law which ensures that people involved in stalling construction projects are dealt with, decisively.

“Implementing the aforementioned strategies has resulted in more construction projects starting up again on sites where construction mafias have long stalled work,” Zikalala added.

These construction mafias often disguise themselves as 'business forums', which operate, deploy violence and use other illegal means of controlling access to public sector procurement opportunities.

These groups typically invade construction sites, demand money or a stake in development projects.

However, the South African Police (SAPS) have made headway in dismantling these groups. Earlier this year SAPS confirmed that the 712 cases referred for investigation have resulted in 722 arrests and 52 convictions to date.

This news was welcomed by the Infrastructure Built Anti-Corruption Forum (IBACF).

The IBACF was formed in 2020 and its aim and objectives was to monitor the infrastructure projects and set down systems in place to detect and prevent corruption.

The forum comprises civil society, representatives from the built environment and various arms of government, including the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

During his Sona address in 2022 President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in Parliament that a special unit would be created in the SAPS to deal with the issue that was disrupting businesses.

The construction mafia entails gangs who intimidate foremen, project managers and construction bosses by going on to sites and demanding a stake in projects.

Speaking to Independent Media at the time The South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) Western Cape manager Rudolf Murray said their members had been seriously compromised by the activities of the “construction mafia”, with severe damage to property, staff assaulted and even killed.

“We have been in constant engagement with the SAPS and the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Following representations made by Safcec, it was decided by the authorities that site disruptions would henceforth be treated as organised crime,” said Murray.

Ekurhuleni businessman Ntsokolo Nkwale, detailed how a group of thugs terrorised his employees in Tembisa where they filling up potholes.

According to Nkwale the ‘thugs leader’ felt that he snatched his business under his nose, claiming the tender was supposed to be his.

“I took the matter to the municipality and we were made to wait for more than six months without a clear explanation, and I eventually told my people to go back to work.

He later came back with his staff and unfortunately he found me on side. We exchanged heated conversation and later threatened me and I had to report him to the police station,” he explained.

From 2016 to 2019, business entities affected by the construction mafia have approached South African courts seeking a possible legal remedy.

Saturday Star

[email protected]