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SEVERAL KwaZulu-Natal contractors say they have approached the eThekwini Municipality and KwaZulu-Natal government, after their workers were stopped from commencing construction by a vigilante group demanding a slice of the work and tenders.

The modus operandi of the group’s members is often is to come to construction sites unannounced, stop work and demand to speak to the bosses. They then demand a slice of the contract or threaten to stop construction until their demands have been met.

eThekwini Municipal sites have not been spared disruption. This week, the group stopped construction workers installing MTN cables in La Lucia, north of Durban, and demanded to talk to MTN officials.

The building sites of GO! Durban, the city’s rapid bus transit system that will come into effect in 2017, has been targeted on several occasions, allegedly by members of the forum.

Megan Naidoo, a senior manager of construction company Elias Mechanicos Building, said its construction workers were also disrupted in June, as they were working on an eThekwini Municipality project in Springfield Park, north of Durban.

"We took down the names of the leaders and their contact details. We then approached our lawyers who went to the High Court in Durban to obtain a court order. When the forum members arrived for the meeting they were presented with the court orders, which stipulated that they should not interfere with our workers. We would advise other businesses to adopt a similar approach," he said.

Rick Crouch, a private investigator, said many construction companies have reported these ‘intimidation’ incidents to their associations, who have in turn informed government institutions such as the eThekwini Municipality and the KwaZulu-Natal government.

"This is nothing but extortion. They are operating like some unions in Chicago and New York, who arrive with their members on building sites and threaten to shut down the construction, unless their members are employed. It is illegal and these people must be arrested," Crouch said.

"If constructors approach, me I will conduct [an] investigation into the ringleaders of the forum so that the police will not have to do any hard work. They can just arrest and prosecute the members of these vigilante groups," he said.

Nathi Mnyandu, secretary of the forum, was adamant that they would continue their action until their demand for a slice of the economy was realised. "Ours is just fight. We are small contractors and all we want is access to work so that we can feed our families. All the major projects are taken by big companies and people with political connections. No matter how skilled you are you don’t get work without connection. We want to change this state of affairs."

Mnyandu said there were many politicians and government officials who were sympathetic to their cause but were afraid to come out in the open. He denied that they also sought a protection fee from contractors so that they could continue with their work. "We have never asked to be given money for free. All we want is a slice of work so that we can thrive."

Ndabe Sibiya, KwaZulu-Natal premier Willies Mchunu’s spokesperson, said the government was committed to economic transformation but could not be held to ransom by a vigilante group demanding tenders and contracts. He said businesses that were intimidated by the group should report the matter to the police or approach the court.