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Cape Town housing beneficiaries despair as violent extortionists delay projects

Cape Town housing beneficiaries despair as violent extortionists delay projects
Residents walk down one of the streets in Blikkiesdorp in Delft. 16 April 2024. (Photo: Daily Maverick)

Housing projects for nearly 19,000 beneficiaries from impoverished communities in the Western Cape have been halted because of extortion, ongoing threats and violence, including the murder of a City of Cape Town official at one of these sites.

Wendy Kloppers, an official in the city’s Department of Environmental Affairs, was fatally shot on 16 February 2023 at the R500-million Symphony Way Housing project.

She was to have inspected the site, which will provide state-subsidised housing opportunities for more than 3,000 beneficiaries and their families in Blikkiesdorp, Freedom Park and Malawi Camp.

Before Kloppers’ murder, several firearm-related incidents occurred at the site in which employees were attacked by people acting on behalf of extortionists. The site was closed after the murder and the project came to a halt when contractors terminated their agreement with the city, citing extortion and unrest in the surrounding area.

housing extortion

City of Cape Town official Wendy Kloppers killed at the Symphony Way Housing Project, in Delft, in February 2023. (Photo: Supplied)

The city is engaging a new contractor, but it is not clear when this process will be completed.

The issue of housing extortion was raised in January 2023 before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Human Settlements. The committee was told that extortionists had affected 25 housing projects over the previous five years, preventing nearly 19,000 beneficiaries from moving into homes.

In June 2023, the city said it had to suspend R58.7-million worth of projects because of threats from extortionists. In August 2023, Western Cape Infrastructure MEC Tertuis Simmers told the provincial legislature the department had spent more than R161.7-million on security to fight the scourge.

Gang affiliation

Last week, Daily Maverick visited residents in Blikkiesdorp, Malawi Camp and Freedom Park who had been waiting for their homes. They were too afraid to speak on the record for fear of reprisal attacks, claiming that “piempers” (informants) were living among them who informed the extortionists about people who spoke to the media or the police.

A mother, from one of 1,000 families in Blikkiesdorp waiting to move into the Symphony Way Housing project, said two gangs were vying for the contract.

“Blikkiesdorp camp is divided into blocks A-Q. [A] gang, which was relocated from Woodstock to Blikkiesdorp, has infiltrated most of the blocks. They have wreaked havoc here, controlling Blikkiesdorp and extorting spaza shops within the camp.

“Members from the two gangs fighting for control over the Symphony Way Housing project have already warned us that anyone staying in the blocks controlled by [one gang], or [are] part of the gang or whose family members belong to that gang will not be allowed to move into Symphony Way housing,” she told Daily Maverick.

In Malawi Camp, a 70-year-old grandmother said she had been on the waiting list for more than 30 years and wondered whether she would still be alive when the Symphony Way housing project was completed.

“How long must I wait?” she asked.

Blikkiesdorp in Delft was first built as a temporary shelter in 2007. 16 April 2024. (Photo: Daily Maverick)

People at one of the spaza shops in Blikkiesdorp in Delft. 16 April 2024. (Photo: Daily Maverick)

Contract cancelled

Carl Pophaim, the city’s Mayoral Committee (Mayco) member for Human Settlements, said, “The city is looking to resume work [at Symphony Way] as soon as possible this year, if all goes to plan. The Project Engagement Committee (PEC), and specifically the beneficiary representatives, will be kept abreast and included in all discussions.

“The supply chain management process to appoint a new contractor [is under way] and we look forward to the appointment award by the end of the first quarter [of the 2024-25 fiscal year] as long as there are no unforeseen interruptions.”

On 11 April, the city’s Mayco member for finance, Siseko Mbandezi, announced a tightening of internal procurement processes aimed at making things more difficult for extortionists.

“Robust internal control interventions are proposed to reduce the impact of extortion on city projects. This includes placing any individuals assessed as high risk, who are connected to a specific tenderer, on the city’s Red List; and revoking awarded contracts, including those that are linked via subcontracting to a high-risk main tenderer, once reputational risk and harm are exposed.

“Making things as hard as possible for extortionists and criminals is a focus across city operations. Extortion is a highly organised, lucrative criminal enterprise and the most vulnerable communities are impacted the most as service delivery suffers,” Mbandezi said.

Ntobeko Mbingeleli, the spokesperson for infrastructure MEC Simmers, gave feedback on all the projects where extortionists had demanded protection money from contractors. These include:

  • Blue Downs and Forest Village, where urgent interdicts were obtained against extortionists in 2021 and security provisions on site increased. Construction at both sites has resumed.
  • Gugulethu Infill was affected by extortion. The Department of Infrastructure handed over the project to the City of Cape Town on 1 November 2023.
  • Valhalla Park Phase 1 was completed at the end of 2023 and new contractors are being appointed to continue with subsequent phases.
  • The Airport Infill Project Luyolo and Tambo Village sites remain halted due to extortion and persistent threats of violence. Both projects were affected by shooting incidents. The department appointed armed security guards and requested assistance from the SAPS to mitigate the safety risks. Members of the armed security team were shot and wounded in a drive-by shooting at the Luyolo site. The construction contract was terminated at the request of the building contractor due to fears for the safety of their site staff. A new contractor has not yet been appointed. The department will ask the city’s law enforcement and the SAPS for more assistance before the appointment of a new contractor. A new contractor is anticipated to be appointed before the end of the first quarter of the 2024/25 fiscal year.

Construction mafias 

Research documents published during the past two years have revealed the countrywide impact of construction mafias on construction projects and investment in the sector.

“In the period leading up to 2020, up to R63-billion worth of projects were … delayed or cancelled as a result of the extortion tactics and disruptions posed by construction mafias,” Special Investigating Unit spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said.

One of these was the R11-billion Montrose Mega City project in Randfontein, Gauteng, which was abandoned in 2018 due to demands from several construction mafias.

Extortion arrest

Police Minister Bheki Cele, when presenting the third-quarter crime statistics for the financial year 2023/24 on 16 February, highlighted the SAPS’s continued efforts to deal decisively with construction mafias.

He mentioned Western Cape successes in dismantling and bringing down those behind the construction mafias, specifically the recent arrest of alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield, his wife Nicole Johnson, and three others. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Random Comment says:

    When I read articles like this, all hope for this country disappears…the rule of law destroyed, millions of tax rands wasted, housing programs unfinished or abandoned, criminals running riot, and the most vulnerable in society exploited, abused and, in some cases, threatened and murdered.

    How do we get back to a civilized society from this point?

  • Heinrich Lesch says:

    And where is the Army to give full protection to contractors
    and their staff? Probably confined to the barracks.
    It just boggles the mind that there is no will from the people in charge of safety and security to let criminals run amock. Why does the DA not talk to the Minister of Defence to help with protection?

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      That is not the job of the army to investigate crime and arrest criminals that’s what we pay SAPS for. The Minister who should be speaking to everyone about this and getting something done is the same twat in the silly hat who disappeared for a few days during the Zuma riots.

  • Nic Grobler says:

    This really makes the most positive among us despair for our country. If this is so rife in the WC, where it is at least made public, what is happening under cover elsewhere? An utter disgrace.

  • Dermot Quinn says:

    In these type of cases the force used by govt has to be superior and sustained and concentrated. Spend the money on security and stop it fully ASAP. Allowing it to go on when govts responsibility is to get on top of this ASAP.

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