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Construction mafias wreak havoc on Cape Town roadworks

The City of Cape Town’s attempts to repair its road network and construct new transport infrastructure are being hampered by criminal organizations attempting to extort the funds set aside for these projects.

According to Daily Maverick, the most recent case involving Cape Town’s construction mafias took place on 19 February 2024, when a security guard was shot while patrolling an area in Philippi where a MyCiti bus service was being rolled out.

The security guard is in recovery, and an attempted murder case has been opened. The project’s construction is also continuing despite the attack.

This is the city’s first reported incident of violence at a road improvement project in 2024, but last year saw a number of efforts being delayed as a result of these criminals.

In June 2023, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for Urban Mobility, Rob Quintas, announced that seven major transport infrastructure projects estimated at R58.6 million were being held up by “mafia-style extortionists” who were attempting to hold the city to ransom with threats, acts of intimidation and violence, and even murder.

As of October 2023, these groups continued to disrupt several ongoing projects in the Cape Town area.

This included roadworks in Delft, which resulted in reports of attempted murder, murder, and arson; the construction of MyCiti infrastructure on Spine Road; and the building of the Lentegeur pedestrian bridge.

Roadworks along Bishop Lavis and Edward Street, road improvements in Brooklyn, and a roundabout on Walter Sisulu were also met with extortion demands.

Between January 2023 and February 2024, 96 incidents of attempted extortion were recorded in the metro in total.

These cases are tracked by the Safety and Security Investigation Unit, which monitors incidents linked to the intimidation of public representatives and city contractors and provides information to the South Africa Police Services.

Cape Town takes action

To combat these criminals, Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis launched a 24-hour anonymous hotline (080 000 6992) in October 2023 through which whistleblowers could report extortion, and the municipality has also upped its spending on security at construction sites by R55 million.

Additionally, the city has made changes to the way it handles infrastructure improvements in order to avoid extortion demands and protect its workforce, including acommodating certain municipal employees in safe houses due to threats from criminals.

“We have put in a place a war room that coordinates these things and has all these contractors and departments involved. We are talking among ourselves and sharing information… It is becoming harder and harder for extortion activities to impact our service delivery,” said Smith.

Furthermore, the local government has adopted a confidentiality policy on its infrastructure upgrades as it will no longer announce the value of each of its projects.

The Cape Town Urban Mobility Directorate has allocated R8.3 billion for road improvements over the next three fiscal years, which will involve at least five major projects relating to phase 2A of the MyCiti service expansions in Wynberg, Claremont, Khayelitsha, and Mitchells Plain.

When TopAuto reached out for comment regarding the funds set aside for each of these plans, Quintas said that the city no longer discloses these values.

The reason given is that Cape Town is trying to avoid demands from criminals wanting to control the subcontracting of services, who in the past have demanded sums as high as R27.4 million for projects whose budget was made public.

“I want to make it very clear that the city will not allow this thuggery, nor will we succumb to those demanding so-called protection money,” said Smith.

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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