MEC to mediate on R37m Umlazi school project 'hijacked by mafia'

'Mafia' leader tells TimesLIVE construction restarted two months ago — there is no issue

KwaZulu-Natal MEC for public works and human settlements Sipho ‘KK’ Nkosi visited the construction site at Menzi High School in Umlazi, south of Durban, to asses progress.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for public works and human settlements Sipho ‘KK’ Nkosi visited the construction site at Menzi High School in Umlazi, south of Durban, to asses progress.

A project to build additional classrooms at a school in Umlazi, south of Durban, has stalled after the contractor abandoned the construction site allegedly due to threats from a local business forum. 

The R37m project, to build 13 classrooms and specialised laboratories, was expected to start last year. However, only the foundation for the first block has been built. 

On Tuesday, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for public works Sipho Nkosi visited the site on a fact-finding mission and to find a resolution to the impasse. 

“We learnt that the school construction is not progressing well. Only 14% of the work has been done for a project that started in 2022. That is criminal. It means the spending of the budget of R37.8m to build these structures is not going to be spent in the allocated time because just above R7m only has been spent,” said Nkosi.

After his visit, Nkosi said he would try to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table. 

“I have been informed progress is disrupted by business forums who are demanding work. We hope to get their names and advise them that the 30% they want is through negotiations with the main contractor to subcontract,” he said. 

The MEC added that he was concerned about the disruption as it affects teaching and learning. 

“The classrooms are being built to relieve overcrowding. The project was meant to be completed in 2024. However, the date has been shifted to 2025. I have been told that the business forums threaten contractors — that is what I need to find out because if you are negotiating, where do threats come in?” 

Nkosi said if negotiations do not yield results, the government will call on state resources to intervene and protect the development. 

But a group that identified themselves as the local business forum told TimesLIVE that while there were delays in construction, work has commenced. 

“The site has been open for about two months. The MEC did not speak to us today but the progress you see here is due to negotiations with the main contractor that resulted in a subcontractor,” said a leader of the forum, who did not want to be identified.

He called on the government to include communities in local projects.

The man said the government would eliminate disruptions to projects if they introduced the main contractor to community stakeholders.

“There are people who can’t bid for certain projects because they don't meet requirements, but the only way to ensure those businesses grow is to subcontract them so they gain practical experience. 

“Black people have had no opportunities to enter these industries and they cannot compete. These projects where contractors work with local business people is the only way to ensure our businesses become competitive,” the man said. 

He added that community beneficiation should not only end at people employed for labour. 

“We agree that a percentage of the project must go to the community, but it's understood, if we are saying main contractors must hire us for manual labour, not everyone wants that kind of work ... so the people who own companies, but have a lower grading, where must they get experience if not from projects in their own communities?”

Asked about alleged threats against the main contractor, a forum spokesperson said the community closed the site through protest action.


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