The Durban construction industry is under siege from a shadowy ‘tender mafia’ of armed ‘businessmen’ who invade construction sites, close them down, and demand a ‘ransom’ before work can resume.
The first rumbles of KwaZulu-Natal’s AmaDelangokubona Business Forum were heard in December 2015 when contractors in Umlazi suspended refuse removal in the township, saying they were underpaid. The contractors, claiming to be members of the Forum, shut down municipal refuse depots and threatened violence if their demand for a pay increase was not met. For a month, the rubbish piled up in Umlazi while the city tried to solve the impasse.
Things took a sinister turn in January last year when city contractors began receiving death threats if they turned up for work. Forum members laid siege to the municipality’s electricity depots, threatening to kill workers, and then targeted road repair crews, storm water depots and maintenance teams. Senior managers also received death threats. Workers were beaten up, shot at, and had equipment and cellphones stolen.
A source, who insisted on anonymity, told Durban newspaper the Daily News that crews had become terrified of going into certain areas. “If there is a critical job that needs to be done, we have to organise police escorts,” he said. “People are scared to go to work. These guys are armed and tell people they will be killed.”