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The construction industry has welcomed plans by the government to act against extortion rackets, blamed for derailing multibillion-rand infrastructure and construction projects.

In his state of the nation address (Sona), President Cyril Ramaphosa announced he will be “prioritising the problem of criminal groups that extort money from construction and other businesses”.

This will be doen through specialised units drawn from the police and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to tackle these “crimes of economic disruption”. 

SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors CEO Webster Mfebe told Business Day as of November 2019 about R42bn in construction projects had been held up by protesters demanding a stake in the work.

By tackling the issue in his address, the president has “elevated the matter and given it the seriousness and the attention it deserves”, Mfebe said.

“This is economic sabotage, it is organised crime. I applaud the president because these issues affect the economic outcomes of our country,” Mfebe said.

The spate of disruptions involving so-called “business forums” began in KwaZulu-Natal but has spread across the country in recent years, cropping up in the construction of everything from roads to mines to luxury housing developments.

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