The Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS) has welcomed the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the government is setting up a special police unit to deal with the construction mafia, which has been disrupting businesses in the country for years.
The safety of professionals in the built environment
ASAQS has made numerous calls since 2019 for the police to get involved in the matter, as the issue affects infrastructure projects, investor confidence and the safety of professionals in the built environment. The construction mafia entails gangs who intimidate foremen, project managers and construction bosses by going onto project sites and demanding a stake. The result is construction projects worth at least R25 billion being violently disrupted and halted in South Africa.
According to Newton Baloyi, vice-president of ASAQS, the president’s announcement is welcome. “With the police taking over the criminal element, professionals in the built environment will be able to focus on the fundamental reason for local community dissatisfaction when large projects are involved.”
Preventing disruption is better than cure
According to Baloyi, disruptions in the construction sector are not limited to mafias. “It usually happens the moment labour and companies from outside the local communities are appointed to projects. The local community gets upset, as they feel deprived of opportunities for meaningful economic participation.”
He explains that this can be expected, as many of these megaprojects are being done in environments where people live in poverty, are unemployed and are looking for opportunities. Baloyi believes that a shift in mindset is required to fully address the issue.
A plan for community involvement
Baloyi says the first step to meaningful community involvement is to integrate social and economic sustainability into the planning of projects. “Project procurement strategies should proactively identify opportunities for the localisation of the project value chain. A project must be developed and marketed in such a way that local communities have a say and a sense of ownership. The engagement with the community shouldn’t start when the contractor arrives on site, it must come from the developer and his professional team before the arrival of the contractor,” he notes.
He says the project teams should go beyond simply subcontracting and labour. “We need to think beyond that and consider other high-impact opportunities for the maximum circulation of money in the communities, such as the part localisation of material supplies, manufacturing, assembly, unbundling projects and ringfencing opportunities for the local communities.”
Baloyi concludes by adding that once a community has taken project ownership, it becomes easier for those communities to identify criminal elements. “They are then personally committed to the project and part of its beneficial elements. They are not only uplifting, but they also invest economically and socially. These are the kinds of initiatives that have a significant impact.”
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