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KZN: Birthplace of the ’construction mafia’

Delangokubona SA Business Forum had allegedly threatened to shutdown a construction site at Springfield Park in 2016 but they never showed up. | Motshwari Mofokeng

Delangokubona SA Business Forum had allegedly threatened to shutdown a construction site at Springfield Park in 2016 but they never showed up. | Motshwari Mofokeng

Published Sep 24, 2021


Durban - THE CONSTRUCTION mafia which has terrorised and disrupted 183 construction projects worth billions in KwaZulu-Natal have spread to other parts of South Africa.

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Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane, a senior analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC) under subparagraph New kids on the block: The construction mafia, in her research report titled How to silence the guns? Southern Africa’s illegal firearms market, shed light on construction disruptions that have taken place on construction sites in KZN over the last few years.

The report cited the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec), in April 2019, it said that at least 183 infrastructure and construction projects nationally, worth more than R63 billion, had been disrupted by these groups.

The report read: “The construction mafia emerged in KwaZulu-Natal in late 2015 and early 2016 when groups of people invaded construction sites demanding not only a percentage of the construction contract but also that construction companies employ certain people linked to them on the sites. Their activities soon spread to other parts of the country.”

“In KwaZulu-Natal, these business forums have also become embroiled in government departments’ internal processes, particularly those related to investigations and disciplinary action in their supply chain divisions,” the report read.

The report used the example of the March 2018 disciplinary hearing of suspended eThekwini Municipality deputy head of supply chain management Zandile Sithole.

Members of the Black Business Federation (BBF) (formerly known as the Federation for Radical Economic Transformation), some of whose members are affiliated with the Delangokubona SA Business Forum, disrupted Sithole’s meeting.

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The report said Sithole was accused of accepting bribes worth more than R2 million from companies contracted to the municipality. Armed men stormed the venue where the hearings were being held and threatened the presiding officer, demanding Sithole’s reinstatement.

“A few months later, 40 armed members of a ‘business forum’ stormed into a high-level meeting between KwaZulu-Natal health officials and the Treasury’s Intervention Team, which had been deployed by provincial authorities to address serious breaches of the Public Finance Management Act within the health department. The group demanded tenders and the reinstatement of a suspended official,” the report read.

“During a dispute between these groups and the eThekwini Municipality, one forum leader was caught on video telling the deputy city manager: ‘We don’t have time to play. We are not scared to get arrested. We did not hand over all the guns. We still have some of the guns. Don’t mess around with us.’”

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The report added that a developer interviewed by the GI-TOC told them that some construction managers, supervisors and developers had started to carry their own guns on site. “But this has not really helped much because what is a handgun when faced with people carrying assault rifles?”

When there is a construction site disruption in KZN, it is believed to be the Delangokubona SA Business Forum. Chairperson Thabani Mzulwini said they would not comment for now.

The BBF, Safcec and Master Builders had not commented by the time of publication.

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Meanwhile, in January, Safcec chief executive Webster Mfebe said a memorandum of understanding involving other associations was now with the South African Police Service (SAPS). Senior SAPS contacts had been assigned to the matter. They were co-operating very well with the umbrella body of business forums, BBF, and as a result, violent disruptions had dramatically subsided. Disruptions on sites were one of the contributing factors to company closures and job losses.

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