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LONG WAIT FOR JUSTICE

New minister, new promise to finish Mamelodi magistrates’ court – but after 10 years locals aren’t holding their breath

New minister, new promise to finish Mamelodi magistrates’ court – but after 10 years locals aren’t holding their breath
The unfinished Mamelodi East Magistrates' Court on 20 August 2023.. (Photo: Tosh Studio)

Completion of a magistrates’ court in Mamelodi East, Tshwane, has been delayed for 10 years, under the watch of five public works ministers. Now, newly appointed minister Sihle Zikalala has stepped up with a promise of action, but residents are running out of hope.

‘The unfinished Mamelodi East Magistrates’ Court is in itself a guilty verdict against the government for failure to deliver services to the public,” said Reshoketswe Sephuma (51). 

Sephuma was one of several Mamelodi residents who watched from a distance this month when Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala visited the ill-fated site. The building has been under construction for 10 years and shows no sign of being completed any time soon. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Mamelodi magistrates’ court that never was, and the contractor who couldn’t finish

Before Zikalala’s site visit the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) said the project was in line with its Operation Siyahlola initiative, in which the minister would inspect the progress of construction at various government facilities meant to provide essential services to the public. 

In that statement, the DPWI admitted that construction had been plagued by challenges which had resulted in unforeseen delays. 

After his inspection, journalists asked Zikalala whether those challenges included reluctance by contractor Fikile Construction to resume work due to threats by the notorious Mamelodi-based criminal gang Boko Haram, which allegedly still poses as a community business forum and is demanding a 30% share of the tender awarded to Fikile Construction to build the court. They also asked Zikalala whether he was aware of allegations by residents that members of the gang were working as security guards at the unfinished building without the contractor’s approval.

Read more in Daily Maverick: When gangsters came to the party: The ANC’s links to Tshwane’s ‘Boko Haram’

Zikalala pleaded ignorance, adding:

“We can’t blame the contractor, Fikile Construction, for the unenviable situation in which the court building finds itself. There have been challenges of communication between the department and the contractor. As a department we will go back and review internally as to whether we have implemented required leadership and project management skills to commence and complete this project. We will come back in September with a clear project plan to complete the construction of this court building. And as much as we support local business forums’ efforts to seek business opportunities on this court project, such efforts must be done legally.”

He said construction began in 2014 with a budget of R95-million. However, in 2021, DPWI communications officer Thami Mchunu told Daily Maverick that construction had begun in November 2013 and that R124.6-million of a budgeted R118.4-million had already been spent.

When Daily Maverick visited the construction site last week, the only visible change since visiting the site in October 2022, aside from the longer grass, was that scaffolding had been removed. There was no sign of labourers or security guards. The inner and outer walls remain unpainted and the road leading to the gate untarred.

Mamelodi East Magistrates' Court

Then: The Mamelodi East Magistrates’ Court on 6 October 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Mamelodi East Magistrates' Court

Now: The Mamelodi East Magistrates’ Court on 20 August 2023. (Photo:Thosh Studio)

Mchunu told Daily Maverick that Fikile Construction had been instructed in a letter dated 14 July to resume work from 24 July, but the company failed to show up.

Fikile Construction CEO Hlami Ndlovu acknowledged receipt of the letter, telling Daily Maverick this month that there were reasons for not reporting for work at the site. 

“Numerous contractual issues must still be resolved in order for us to proceed with work at the court building. My company (Fikile Construction) is prepared to resume work as soon as those contractual issues are settled,” Ndlovu said. 

Ndlovu declined to provide details, but three weeks ago the DPWI gave Daily Maverick a list of the contractual issues:

  • The application for the extension of Fikile Construction’s contract still needs to be adjudicated;
  • The financial claims from Fikile Construction still need to be adjudicated; and
  • Finalising the appointment of direct specialised subcontractors is still outstanding.

These issues were mentioned by then minister Patricia de Lille in 2022, although the involvement of Boko Haram is absent from the latest list. 

Mamelodi East Magistrates' Court

The Mamelodi East Magistrates’ Court building has been under construction since 2013. (Photo: Supplied)

The department maintains that Fikile Construction is still the main contractor, but by the time of publication had not explained why there was a need for the application of the extension of the company’s contract to be adjudicated. It had also not revealed how much Fikile Construction was claiming from DPWI and why. And neither had it revealed the names of the two specialist subcontractors and the work they would be doing.

In an email to Daily Maverick dated 6 July 2023, Mchunu listed the work that needed to be done to complete the building, and which had caused the 10-year delay:

  • Plastering, painting, tiling and carpeting;
  • Plumbing;
  • Access control;
  • IT and telephone installations;
  • Electrical and mechanical installations;
  • Paving, signage and landscaping; and
  • A perimeter fence and gate.

This would cost R50-million on top of the original budget, Mchunu said.

The previous ministers under whom construction has been delayed are:

  • Thulas Nxesi (2014);
  • Nathi Nhleko (March 2014 to 2017);
  • Thulas Nxesi (26 February 2018 to 29 May 2019;
  • Patricia de Lille (2019 to 6 March 2023); and
  • Sihle Zikalala (since 7 March 2023).

Pensioner Mamokete Sekwaila (80) echoed residents’ views: “As a resident of Mamelodi I have lost hope in this court building. I am very disappointed. I don’t think construction of the court building will be completed in my lifetime.” DM

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