Extortion rackets disrupt work in Cape Town’s townships

We no longer go to some townships without an escort, says waste collection worker

By Sandiso Phaliso

16 April 2024

Protection rackets victimise individuals trying to run their businesses in Cape Town’s townships (like Philippi pictured above). Photo: Sandiso Phaliso

Last week GroundUp reported on how criminal syndicates are extorting small businesses, spaza shops, salons and even informal roadside traders in Cape Town’s townships.

But the extortion doesn’t stop there. Syndicates have also been targeting the state. In Philippi, Samora Machel, Gugulethu, Nyanga and parts of Khayelitsha, essential services, such as waste collection, have at times had to be withdrawn for the safety of workers because of the extortion syndicates.

Workers have been robbed at gunpoint and forced by the protection rackets to stop work until their bosses pay up.

A supervisor at a company contracted by the City to deliver services in Khayelitsha, Philippi and Samora, who asked to be anonymous out of fear for their safety, confirmed this. “Workers have stopped working in crime hotspots unless they are accompanied by law enforcement, because they get robbed of their personal belongings by these gangs that demand the owners pay protection fees,” the supervisor said.

A waste collection worker said he and his colleagues have been threatened numerous times. “We no longer go to some townships if we are not escorted by law enforcement because our lives will be in danger. We told the employer that we cannot risk our lives,” he said.

Between January 2023 and February 2024, the City’s Safety and Security Investigation Unit (SSIU) recorded 96 cases linked to intimidation of city councillors, City staff and City-linked contractors.

GroundUp reported in October how Sanitech had to withdraw sanitation services from RR informal settlement in Khayelitsha after cleaners were held up at gunpoint. Again in November, we reported how toilet cleaning was stopped after workers were robbed at gunpoint in France informal settlement and in Noxolo Xawuka, Khayelitsha. The extortionists were demanding R50,000 upfront and then R15,000 to R30,000 monthly. They even offered to meet with the subcontracted company officials to discuss the protection fee terms.

Last year, several City construction projects were hampered by extortion attempts including ACSA housing construction in Delft, which reported cases of attempted murder, murder and arson.

Roadworks in Delft and in Bishop Lavis are currently disrupted with reported cases of murder and intimidation. Work at the Beacon Valley housing project in Mitchells Plain has been disrupted and halted.

There were months of extortion-related delays in MyCiTi bus construction in Spine Road, the construction of a pedestrian bridge in Eastridge, and a high-voltage cable relocation in Lentegeur.

In a statement released on 11 April, Mayco Member for Finance Siseko Mbandezi said the City would make things “as hard as possible for extortionists and criminals”.

The City has proposed changes to its Supply Chain Management Policy to reduce the impact of extortion. “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 is exposed,” the City said in its statement.

“It is important not to normalise extortion. It is a highly organised, lucrative criminal enterprise and the most vulnerable communities are impacted the most,” said Carl Pophaim, Mayco Member for Human Settlements.

“We will continue to fight it tooth and nail,” he said.

The City is also encouraging all employees or contractors who are victims of extortion to report the incidents so that it can get an overview of the situation.

Pophaim said the SSIU is assisting the SAPS anti-extortion unit, which is the lead authority for investigating these crimes.

SAPS spokesperson Colonel Andrè Traut told GroundUp that questions related to extortion have been forwarded to the Serious and Violent Crimes unit and his office will respond as soon as their comment is received. We will add the response.