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Cape Town tops up security budget by R15m to protect housing construction sites from gangsters

Cape Town tops up security budget by R15m to protect housing construction sites from gangsters
From left: Western Cape Human Settlements MEC Tertius Simmers. (Photo: Aisha Abdool Karim) | Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Extortion by gangs is hampering the delivery of housing projects in Cape Town, with Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis warning against a potential ‘mafia state’ if it is not reined in.

Extortion, unlawful occupation or forceful community disruption of housing in 12 of the City of Cape Town’s housing projects is affecting about 4,500 beneficiaries of state-subsidised housing, Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis told a meeting of the Western Cape Standing Committee on Human Settlements on 27 January.

“We have a huge problem in the housing space with contractors leaving job sites. There is a practical risk that this work will not be completed, will be delayed, or … cancelled and moved to another location. That is very unfortunate for the communities that rely on those services,” Hill-Lewis said.

‘Mafia state’ risk

“There is a principle problem as well. If we do not stop this then Cape Town, Western Cape and South Africa will turn into a mafia state because no work in the public sector will be done unless extortion money is paid.”

To mitigate this threat, Hill-Lewis said, the city had approved a R15-million top-up budget for additional security at housing construction sites.

Delft, Eindhoven, Valhalla Park, Gugulethu, Bardale 4C in Mfuleni, Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, Sheffield Road in Philippi and Beacon Valley in Mitchells Plain are among the affected housing projects. Gangsterism is rife in both Valhalla Park and Beacon Valley.

The city’s presentation indicated:

  • In Valhalla Park, the project was suspended in 2017 after threats and violent attacks on contractors’ staff. New threats were made to the contractor’s staff in January this year. The security plan of the SAPS and city law enforcement was ineffective against the violent attacks, and the project was suspended. About 781 beneficiaries are affected.
  • In Beacon Valley, two civil contracts with a value of  R14o-million were cancelled in 2021 after petrol bombing, shootings and intimidation on site. Four workers were injured. More than 1,800 people are still waiting for housing.

Infrastructure MEC Tertuis Simmers said problems with extortion had stopped work on 21 housing developments between 2018 and December 2022, leaving 12,624 people still waiting for houses.

The projects affected included Beacon Valley, Athlone Infill Housing, Maroela North in Kraaifontein, Forest Village, Ithemba Eerste River, Blue Downs, Fairylands in Paarl, Airport Infill Project Luyolo and Tambo Villages Sites (Manenberg and Gugulethu) and Welmoed Development Estate.

Simmers said the Department of Human Settlements is spending R1.5-million a month on additional security to safeguard these sites.

Extortion on the rise

“Since … Covid-19, we have seen an increase in the rate and scale of extortion across the province, particularly on project sites,” he said.

“The violence aspect of extortion is now a source of concern for residents. Four security officers were shot, two of whom were killed. The community is relying on us because they are too afraid to file a complaint.”

At Daily Maverick’s The Gathering in November last year, Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions Anton du Plessis said organised crime was an existential threat to South Africa, its democracy and its economy.

Daily Maverick Investigative journalist and author Caryn Dolley reported that “tackling Cape Town’s deep-rooted extortion problem means tackling the city’s gangs too”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Khayelitsha businesses push back against rampant crime and ‘protection’ racket as criminals rule the roost

Hill-Lewis, Simmers, Provincial Head of Detectives Brigadier Makhaya Mkabile, Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements Malusi Booi, City Director of Policing and Coordination Robbie Roberts and Police Oversight and Community Safety MEC Reagen Allen made presentations to the committee.

Extortion cases identified by the Department of Human Settlements and reported to SAPS

  • Case number 447/07/2002 on 28 February 2022 in Luyolo, Manenberg relates to the shooting of a worker. Two unknown men stopped their car near the working area and fired two shots at the worker that was working with a surveyor. The worker suffered an injury to his leg. A case of attempted murder was opened. The incident was preceded by threats of violence against the contractor and is linked to attempts of extortion. The contractor had previously reported extortion attempts by unnamed persons.
  • Case number 167/10/2022 on 10 October 2022 in Tambo Village in Manenberg. Two men demanded to see the supervisor and shot a worker in the leg who could not tell them where the supervisor was. The site has been closed since the incident. The contractor was in the process of re-establishing the site.
  • Case number 202/11/2022 on 13 November 2022 in Tambo Village, Manenberg. Three armed men fired several shots at armed security guards. No injuries were reported.
  • Case number 268/03/2022 reported on 17 March 2022 involved a drive-by-shooting in Luyolo, Gugulethu. Four security guards were shot and wounded by an unknown person. The incident was preceded by threats of violence against the contractor.
  • Case number 180/11/2022 on 9 November 2022. Burning of site offices in Gugulethu. The contractor’s site offices and the main site access security booth were burnt on the evening of 10 October 2022.

Booi explained that criminality and gangsterism were among the most significant impediments to completion. He said R2.8-billion had been allocated for human settlements over the next three years, and the city would do everything possible to protect the projects and beneficiaries.

Mkabile told the standing committee that there had been an increase in confirmed and unconfirmed reports of extortion-related crime in the housing construction sector.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Only 14 cases of extortion-related crimes in the housing sector had been reported to the police in the past five years. Only two were prosecuted. A total of 45 cases were reported in the city of Cape Town districts for the fiscal year 2021/2022.

The success rate against extortion cases in the Western Cape is so low because victims and witnesses were afraid to report incidents, and witnesses were unwilling to provide statements, participate in identification parades, or enter into witness protection programmes. DM


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