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Cape Town cracks down on construction mafias, but violence and extortion persist

Cape Town cracks down on construction mafias, but violence and extortion persist
(Photo: Gallo Images / Media 24 / Herman Verwey)

In 2024, gangs of extortionists have persisted in destabilising construction projects, but the metro says efforts to clamp down are seeing results.

South Africa’s construction industry has been grappling with a significant challenge in recent years — the encroachment of criminal elements in the form of construction mafias.

These illicit networks initially surfaced in KwaZulu-Natal about a decade ago. Their influence has since expanded across all provinces, claiming lives and damaging the economy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Boko Haram vs Guptas – judgment reveals extensive network around Cape Town extortion gangs

Construction mafias employ tactics such as extortion, violence, intimidation and disruption to advance their objectives.

19 Feb 2024: Security guard and K9 dog attacked

The first construction mafia-related incident of 2024 took place on 19 February when a security guard and his K9 dog came under fire while patrolling a building site in Philippi. Both were injured.

The criminals did not attempt to enter the site.

The incident happened in Govan Mbeki Street, Brown’s Farm, where a MyCiTi bus service was being rolled out.

According to Rob Quintas, mayco member for urban mobility, the contractor had been receiving threats from criminals wanting to control the subcontracting of services.

“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,” he said.

“We cannot make more information public, save to say that the security guard is recovering. Two bullets hit the K9 and it is not out of danger yet. These attacks are unacceptable and undermine the city’s efforts to deliver much-needed services to communities.”

The project is continuing despite the attack.

Police spokesperson Sergeant Wesley Twigg said Nyanga police are investigating an attempted murder case.

“According to reports, unknown gunmen came on to the premises and fired several shots at the victim. The motive for the attack is unknown. The suspects fled the scene and are yet to be arrested.”

Hotline making an impact

In October last year, Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis launched a 24-hour anonymous hotline – 0800 00 6992 – to report extortion. It’s part of a plan to tackle crimes related to construction projects in the city.

The mayor said the municipality was spending R55-million on additional security measures to protect those sites so that construction could continue.

cape town construction mafia jp smith

Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith. (Photo: Velani Ludidi)

Mayco member for safety and security JP Smith said the city’s Safety and Security Investigation Unit (SSIU) assists with the tracking and monitoring of cases linked to intimidation of public representatives and city-linked contractors.

“Where the SSIU has information linked to council-related matters, they will hand it over to the SA Police Service as the main policing entity. Both the city’s anonymous tip-off line and the extortion tip-off line have played a key role in combating crime within the municipality.”

Cases of extortion

Smith said there had been 96 cases of extortion recorded between January 2023 and February 2024. There was no information on arrests or convictions.

In a separate interview earlier this year, Smith said they were forced to accommodate certain municipal employees in safe houses due to threats from extortionists.

“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.”

The City of Cape Town last year blacklisted businesses linked to Nicole Johnson, the wife of alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield. She runs a company that was awarded tenders to build houses in Cape Town.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Risky business — City of Cape Town blacklists companies linked to 28s gang case accused Nicole Johnson

Disrupted projects 

Carl Pophaim, mayco member for human settlements, said that after the fatal shooting of city official Wendy Kloppers at the city’s Delft housing project in early 2023, an in-depth investigation had been launched.

“The city restricted suppliers following the investigation. That project was suspended and the city is hoping to resume this year if all goes to plan.”

City projects affected by extortionists as of October 2023 include:

  • Acsa Symphony Way housing project (Delft): Work is currently disrupted, with reported cases of attempted murder, murder and arson.
  • Delft select roadworks: Work is currently disrupted, with a reported case of murder.
  • MyCiTI construction site (Spine Road): Work is going ahead after extortion-related delays.
  • Beacon Valley housing project: Work is disrupted, with reported cases of intimidation and arson.
  • Lentegeur pedestrian bridge: Work is proceeding following reported cases of theft and intimidation.
  • Eastridge high-voltage cable relocation: Work is proceeding after disruptions.
  • Bishop Lavis roadworks: Work is disrupted, with reported cases of intimidation.
  • Edward Street works (Ottery): Work is proceeding after disruptions.

Suspensions, arrests, charges

Former Cape Town mayco member for human settlements Malusi Booi is being investigated over allegations that he accepted bribes from underworld figures in exchange for information about housing tenders.

He has denied the allegations and no charges have been laid against him.

Booi’s troubles began when his office was raided on 15 March 2023 as part of a fraud and corruption probe. He was subsequently suspended from the mayoral committee and then fired from that position.

He resigned as a councillor seven months after his suspension, complaining that the investigation had dragged on with no criminal charges being laid against him.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I want to live my life’ — ex-Cape Town mayco member Malusi Booi quits as councillor seven months after police raid

It was also reported that the municipality had dismissed Siphokazi September, the director of public housing, who was accused of colluding with the construction mafia and gangs.

Two other city officials are on suspension following similar allegations of collusion.

cape town construction mafia bheki cele

Police Minister Bheki Cele. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Police Minister Bheki Cele recently cited the arrests of Ralph Stanfield and his wife Nicole as part of police efforts to neutralise the construction mafia.

Stanfield and his wife were arrested in September last year. Among charges, Stanfield faces one of attempted murder.

Cele said that from April last year to date, more than 61 suspects linked to construction mafias nationally had been arrested. Since 2019, 27 people had been convicted and collectively sentenced to 43 years’ imprisonment.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA murder rate up, sexual offences decline, police crack down on construction mafias – Cele

The City of Cape Town encourages anonymous tip-offs about extortion and construction mafias on its hotline: 0800 00 6992, or e-mail: [email protected]. DM

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  • Greeff Kotzé says:

    “Since 2019, 27 people had been convicted and collectively sentenced to 43 years’ imprisonment.”

    So, an average of 1.6 years per convict? Yeah, that will definitely discourage these gangs. Well done, SAPS. Well done, NPA.

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