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Extortionists delay R400-million road upgrade in Cape Town

The widening of A Z Berman Drive in Cape Town to accommodate an expansion of the MyCiTi bus service into Mitchells Plain has been in limbo since 28 February following contractors being forced off site by extortion groups.

The service is intended to improve public transport services in the area and provide low-income households with affordable and reliable transport to work, schools, and other destinations.

“What has happened is that for the past week or so we have had ongoing disruptions at site, to the point where contractors have left site as well, due to the presence and engagement coming from one of the local development forums and members thereof,” the mayoral committee member of urban mobility, Rob Quintas, told eNCA.

“That interaction has left city staff and contractors feeling uncomfortable, intimidated, and harassed.”

The extortionists have allegedly vowed to burn construction machinery should their demands not be met.

As a result, the City of Cape Town approached the courts for an interdict against the organisation and its members for interfering with the construction.

The value of the project, according to local businesses, sits in the region of R400 million.

Construction mafias wreak havoc in Cape Town

Between January 2023 and February 2024, 96 incidents of attempted extortion of ongoing construction projects by mafia-style groups were reported in Cape Town, with many of these jobs being delayed or completely grounding to a halt.

In extreme cases, the city has even been forced to accommodate municipal employees in safe houses to ensure they remain unharmed by these criminals.

In the face of ongoing threats and intimidation, Cape Town launched a 24-hour hotline (080 000 6992) in October 2023 through which whistleblowers could anonymously report extortion attempts, as well as upped its spending on security at construction sites by R55 million.

Furthermore, it has put in place a war room that coordinates these actions among all the contractors and departments involved.

The local government has also adopted a confidentiality policy on its infrastructure upgrades as it no longer publicly announces the value of each project.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said that from April 2023 to date, over 61 suspects linked to construction mafias around the country had been arrested. Over the past four years, 27 people were convicted for this crime and collectively sentenced to 43 years of imprisonment.

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