Crime is killing infrastructure projects in South Africa

Crime is already devastating South Africa’s economy and society, and is now preventing many important infrastructure projects from progressing.

The latest large construction project to be halted because of criminal activity is the Mtentu bridge in the Eastern Cape.

The Aveng Strabag joint venture (ASJV) has stopped working on the bridge and terminated its contract with the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) following safety concerns.

The 1.1km bridge, which is expected to cost around R1.6 billion, forms part of Sanral’s N2 Wild Coast road project.

However, ASJV stopped working on the project in October 2018 because of community unrests, which created a dangerous working environment.

According to Aveng, the intimidation and chaos caused by armed protestors prevented them from executing work safely and in accordance with international best practice.

An overview of the project is provided in the video below.

Criminals damaging railways

Earlier this year, Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) announced that it was partnering with the police to set up a war room to combat criminals damaging and stealing its infrastructure.

According to the company, criminal activity is affecting its operations and has led to trains being derailed.

In one of the incidents in December 2018, a 200-wagon coal train derailed near Richards Bay after a portion of the line was damaged.

Transnet Freight Rail GM Caesar Mtetwa told Engineering News Online that they view it as sabotage as they could not see any commercial motive for the crime.

Hundreds of train carriages have also been vandalised or set alight in South Africa in recent years.

According to the Sunday Times, a dispute between the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) and unions is behind most of the arson attacks that have destroyed 60% of commuter trains.

This vandalism is causing big problems for workers who rely on these trains as an affordable method to get to work.

Telecoms networks targeted

Copper theft is a major problem in South Africa and has seriously damaged Telkom’s fixed-line infrastructure over the last decade.

In 2016, Telkom revealed that copper theft cost it over R200 million in repair costs and security services.

It reached such high levels that Telkom stopped replacing copper in many areas and used fixed-line-lookalike infrastructure with wireless networks.

It is, however, not only copper networks which are targeted. Criminals are wrecking mobile networks without any concern for the damage they cause.

Criminals are after anything which can be sold, including diesel, batteries, copper, and telecoms equipment.

These criminals rip base stations apart to get what they want, and the damage caused take a long time to repair.

MyBroadband has received information that up to 60 mobile sites are vandalised per month on MTN’s network alone.

The video below shows the damage caused by criminals at a base station – despite strong security measures at the site.

Fibre network rollouts stopped by criminals

Criminals are also targeting fibre operators who are either rolling out fibre networks or are trying to repair damaged fibre infrastructure.

In 2017, the FTTH Council Africa said crime targeting South African fibre installers had reached a critical point.

The council said fibre contractors were being robbed at gunpoint, hijacked, and having their equipment taken.

Additionally, in August 2018 Vumatel had to stop work in KwaZulu-Natal due to intimidation and threats against workers.

“This means that until the issues have been resolved, the contractors will be unable to attend to civil work or reinstatements,” Vumatel said.

Openserve’s restoration of a major fibre route in Bishop Lavis was also stopped recently after technicians and their security escorts were forced out of the area by residents.

The work only continued after the police gave the green light that it is safe.

The video below shows two members of a fibre installation team being held up at gunpoint while thieves make off with their belongings.

Now read: See how criminals are wrecking mobile networks in South Africa

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Crime is killing infrastructure projects in South Africa