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Cape Town risks losing R60m in transport funding due to ‘unconscionable’ extortion

Cape Town risks losing R60m in transport funding due to ‘unconscionable’ extortion
The Symphony Way Housing Project in Delft, Cape Town. (Photo: Bruce Sutherland / City of Cape Town)

Extortion is having a serious impact on Cape Town, putting up to R60-million of transportation projects at risk, according to the city. At least seven significant projects, ranging from the development of new public transportation infrastructure to road rehabilitation and stormwater management, have been halted due to safety concerns, primarily in the city’s most vulnerable neighbourhoods.

The extent of extortion in the City of Cape Town was revealed by Rob Quintas, Mayoral Committee Member for Urban Mobility, on Tuesday.

Quintas underlined that at least seven major projects have been halted due to safety concerns on site, ranging from the construction of new public transport infrastructure to road reconstruction and stormwater maintenance, primarily in the city’s most vulnerable communities.

“Unfortunately, the brazen attempts by these mafia-style extortionists are only intensifying. They are holding to ransom the city and our contractors, and, ultimately, at the expense of service delivery to those who need these services most. It is completely and utterly unconscionable,” Quintas said.

The city’s Urban Mobility Directorate indicated that due to extortionists, the municipality is at risk of losing up to R58.6-million in unspent budgetary expenditure on transportation capital projects.

Quintas slammed the sophisticated extortionist syndicates, as well as opportunistic thugs who have little regard for the communities.

The MMC said the city would continue to offer services. He wanted to inform extortionists that the city and its contractors would not succumb to attempts to siphon public monies into their pockets.

The projects, according to Quintas, that have recently been hamstrung or ground to a halt due to threats, intimidation and murders, include the following:

  • New MyCiTi depots are being built in Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain at the intersection of Spine Road and Mew Way. This project and its facilities are crucial to the second phase of the MyCiTi bus service. Interference with numerous contractors and extortion efforts in May delayed the project by at least three weeks, putting R27.4-million in unspent capital budget in jeopardy.
  • Rehabilitation of Delft Main Road, from Stellenbosch Arterial to Silversands Road in Delft. Following the shooting of one of their employees on 10 May 2023, the contractor withdrew from the location. To date, the loss totals R13.5-million in the unspent capital budget.
  • The Walter Sisulu/Lindela roundabout in Khayelitsha has been suspended, despite it being an important traffic calming measure at a busy intersection. Threats and extortion have caused a three-month delay in the project, putting R600,000 at risk.
  • Installation of traffic calming measures and footways, including sidewalk and embayment construction, in Brooklyn intended to enhance pedestrian safety and universal access has also been halted. The contractor has suffered multiple threats and instances of intimidation of staff on site. On 17 May 2023, thugs returned to the site, threatened staff and loaded a plate compactor on to a bakkie. An amount of about R195,000 remains unspent.

Quintas emphasised that the Urban Mobility Directorate prioritised the safety of all road users, and allocated funds for projects to improve mobility and access for pedestrians, public transport users and motorists.

Beyond that, he said the city was committed to filling the void left by the defunct passenger train service.

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis amplified the issue of extortion in his address to the Western Cape Standing Committee on Human Settlements on 27 January this year.

Extortion by gangs, Hill-Lewis said, was hampering the delivery of housing projects in Cape Town. He warned that the city, province and country could turn into a “mafia state” if extortion was not reined in.

The intensity of extortion was further highlighted in December 2022 when Matlhlodi Maseko, DA Western Cape spokesperson for human settlements, described the situation as “hopeless”, with the paying off of syndicates becoming the norm.

Extortion is not just restricted to the Western Cape. A growing extortion mafia is sweeping across South Africa, crippling construction projects and small businesses.

Stopping extortionists is, however, not easy.

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”.

Cape Town also faces other extortion cases that don’t fall within Quintas’s portfolio. The Symphony Way Housing Project in Delft was the scene of a shooting in which two construction workers were wounded. There was also a petrol-bombing incident.

Wendy Kloppers, a city official, was gunned down near the entrance to the same building site on 16 February. Despite the city offering a R1-million reward for information leading to the killer’s arrest, the perpetrators remain at large. DM


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