The impact of the construction mafia on South Africa’s economic reconstruction has reached crisis proportions requiring an urgent and collaborative response, according to the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI).The task of rolling back the disruption of vital infrastructure projects now needs all stakeholders to be actively involved in supporting renewed police action against these increasingly brazen criminal elements, says BCCEI operations manager Lindie Fourie. Years of disruption by construction mafias in the civil engineering sector are holding back South Africa’s recovery, and all parties now need to throw their support behind efforts to eradicate this criminal scourge. Fourie says the problem of intimidation, extortion and violence on construction sites has reached crisis levels. “We are encouraged by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent announcement of a special police unit to deal with the construction mafia, but it will need all stakeholders to give active support if this effort is to be successful,” says Fourie. “The BCCEI has developed an action plan to address the challenges in the civil engineering industry and we are reaching out to other players to ensure our response is collaborative.” Key aspects of the plan include working with stakeholders to effectively prevent interference in projects, as well as reacting proactively to instances of interference, she says. She commended the various government bodies, industry associations and professional societies who have spoken out against the construction mafia, and called on all players to join hands in their responses.
“With our members being both employees and employers, we have witnessed lives being threatened, ransoms demanded and people kidnapped as well as jobs lost when these criminal elements target important civil engineering projects – most of which are state-funded,” she says.“With government working hard on its economic reconstruction and recovery plan, the country cannot afford its investments in infrastructure to be hijacked by local mafias.” She highlights that the delays and damage caused is stalling government’s job creation efforts, as infrastructure works are among the quickest ways to stimulate growth. With Treasury’s budget under strain following years of low growth and the Covid-19 pandemic, it cannot afford the cost of infrastructure to be further raised by criminal intimidation of contractors. “Government infrastructure projects all include a range of constructive transformation measures, which are dutifully applied by contractors who legally win these projects,” says Fourie. “Mafias are undermining these worthy efforts and derailing crucial improvements to our roads, water, energy and other infrastructure – and holding back government’s service delivery.”