Urgent government intervention sought for construction war zones

LONDON — Big construction sites in South Africa have become a battle ground as armed gangs try to disrupt building operations in the name of radical economic transformation often demanding a 30% stake in the construction project. In the case of the R1.65bn SANRAL Mtentu Bridge project in the Eastern Cape, the European backer pulled out of the project after building was violently disrupted. The Police and the courts appear unable to deal with the problem and those taken into custody are often released soon after arrest. President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke out about what he called ‘radical economic robbery’ in September last year and called for consequences, but little has happened. The gangs involved in the criminality at the construction sites are egged on by a body calling themselves the Federation for Radical Economic Transformation (Ffret) led by Malusi Zondi and he claims to have 3,000 members, most of them former criminals. This situation has however now become so desperate that the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors has written a letter to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni calling for a meeting between the captains of the construction industry and the Minister to discuss urgent action. South Africa is losing valuable foreign investors and engineers because of the construction robbers. It is a highly sought after profession overseas, especially in the United Kingdom; South Africa cannot afford to lose engineers who do not want to work in a war zone. – Linda van Tilburg

By Loni Prinsloo and Ana Monteiro

(Bloomberg) – A South African engineering contractors’ lobby group asked the government to better enforce security as criminals have disrupted or vandalised R25.5bn ($1.8bn) of construction projects across the country.

Armed gangs “recently” disrupted the R1.65bn Mtentu Bridge project in the Eastern Cape province, and a R2.4bn oil-storage investment project at Saldanha in the Western Cape was halted on March 13 after people demanding to be part of the project burnt down properties, the South African Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors said in a March 18 letter addressed to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. In the first incident, police released the arrested perpetrators, and in the second, public-order officials took three hours to arrive, Safcec said.

The economy and workers’ livelihoods “are the main casualties,” the organisation said. “No taxes can be collected due to no economic activity taking place. The rule of law needs to be maintained at all times in order not to scare off investors in the sector.”

South Africa’s construction and materials index is down 25% over the past 12 months and the attacks on projects could harm President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to lure $100bn of investment over five years to revitalise an economy that hasn’t expanded at more than 2% since 2013. Poor educational skills have constrained the economy, which is struggling with an unemployment rate of almost 28%. The country’s murder rate rose to its highest level in nine years in the 12 months through March last year as a depleted police force struggled to get to grips with violent crime.

The Finance Ministry has received the letter, spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said in an emailed response to questions.