There has been a significant reduction in disruption of construction projects incidents by the so-called ‘construction mafia’.
SA Forum of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) CEO Webster Mfebe said this week that this has occurred since the evolution and transformation of the most feared business forums, the Delangokubona Business Forum, which is now part of Black Business Forum (BBF), into a legal entity.
An end to five years of violence?
Mfebe said a total of 404 construction sites of projects collectively valued at R51.1 billion were disrupted in the five-year period from 2018 to 2022.
Mfebe said the height of these disruptions occurred in 2019 when 204 sites of projects valued at R17.89 billion were disrupted.
He added that the number of disruptions annually has however been declining since then.
“It’s still early days in 2022 but eight sites have been disrupted to the value of R207 million,” he said.
Mfebe said construction site disruptions happen sporadically but when they do, he contacts the BBF to ask them to find out what is happening and to please stop the disruption.
He said Safcec had meetings with the Delangokubona Business Forum in 2017 and encouraged its leaders to abandon their unorthodox methods and formalise and regularise themselves into a legal entity so their issues of involvement in local economic development on behalf of the forum and communities could be taken seriously.
“For me, that is testament to our [Safcec’s] constructive engagement strategy instead of saying ‘Arrest them! Throw them in jail!’
“You cannot arrest a hungry person,” he said.
Mfebe said the Delangokubona Business Forum must be applauded for its evolution and transformation.
He said it should also encourage those who are still involved in violent site disruptions to learn from the BBF that when they “change their ways, work within the legal framework, work professionally and act within the law, their issues will in time be addressed”.
Master Builders South Africa (MBSA) executive director Roy Mnisi said they engaged with the Delangokubona Business Forum for the first time in about 2016 and thereafter had further engagements with them and even invited them to a MBSA congress.
Mnisi said construction sites were much more volatile then, and he would not attribute disruptions taking place now to them.
“Discussions with them yielded positive results because it gave us an opportunity to understand where they were coming from, it gave them an opportunity to understand where our members are coming from as well, and it diffused the situation.
“It is a positive development, although what they [Delangokubona] did in the past [has] given others an opportunity to follow on from them, which concerns MBSA,” he said.
The demands of business forums were based and justified on the basis of the 30% small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) sub-contracting requirement in the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act (PPPFA) regulations.
BBF president Malusi Zondi, who was part of the leadership of the Delangokubona Business Forum, said the BBF was established two years ago and registered at the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) as a non-profit company.
Zondi said the BBF has 2 500 business forum members, with each forum required to have a minimum of 20 plus one member who must be part of companies that are registered at the South African Revenue Service (Sars), and fully compliant, to be recognised as a business forum.
He said its membership includes people with a variety of business interests, including logistics, tourism, property development, construction and civil engineering.
Zondi admitted the Delangokubona Business Forum became “rough” because its members were angry about the lack of opportunities to participate in the economy.
“But as time went on, we saw that we first needed to be educated, we need skills so we don’t compromise the quality of whatever else we build. Hence, after eight years, we became professional.
“We bring peace. We now are against those who shut down sites. We are saying we must engage, we must negotiate because we must bring back our economy alive [to life].
“We need to make sure that there is stability and job creation … [and] that anyone who thinks they can participate, we must make sure that they participate through their companies and so they run away from extortion. We are working with law enforcement to ensure there is stability.
“As we are recovering from Covid-19, we don’t want any initiatives which will sabotage our economy.
“We want more infrastructure projects … [and] want to inspire investor confidence through stability,” he said.
Zondi added that the BBF wants the captains of industry to use the strengths of the federation to benefit communities around construction projects.
He admitted that gangsterism has infiltrated some business forums and there is a need to differentiate between genuine complaints about community participation and local economic development and “thugs who just organise themselves to be three or four or five people to go to a site and demand” and are sabotaging the interests of the BBF and its members.
Zondi said the BBF is fully supportive of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement in his State of the Nation Address in February about the establishment of specialised multi-disciplinary units to address economic sabotage, extortion at construction sites and vandalism of infrastructure.
Mfebe said he was recently contacted by Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, who requested an update on disruptions on construction sites.
“They are busy dealing with the issues as announced by the President … [and] have started making sure that what the President announced becomes reality,” he said.