Tensions simmer over contracts
Tensions over construction contracts in Nelson Mandela Bay are rising, with SMMEs demanding a bigger slice of the pie and companies and workers doing jobs in the private sector facing growing threats and intimidation.
One businessman said he was living in fear after an ugly confrontation outside The Bridge Shopping Centre, where his company is doing a painting job.
On the flip side, one of the SMME owners said he was given municipal contracts only once a year and, in the private sector, they were often given an unfair rate, with all the money being spent on labour in the end.
Proservices co-founder and technical consultant Andre Beneke laid a complaint of intimidation at the Mount Road police station on October 22 after his employees were allegedly threatened verbally at the site by eight SMME owners demanding to be given 30% of the subcontracted work.
“These guys approached us [Proservices] at The Bridge on [October 17] and spoke to Johan Wait, who oversees some of the projects.
“They started shouting at our staff to get off the ladders and stop working, otherwise they were going to beat them up.” Wait said the group had returned the following day, and handed him their company profiles and CV documents.
The following Monday, Beneke met the SMME owners outside The Bridge and said he could not afford the 30% they were demanding.
“Everybody shook hands and it was very pleasant, and I gave them a bit of background on how my wife and I started the business from scratch.
“I explained that we have worked hard and built the business up over 20 years, to the extent where we have employed 69 people.
“I then told them I had written a letter and would be willing to help these guys.
“I told them I would train them, take them under my wing, teach them how to go and see customers, how to quote, how to procure business.
“One person was prepared to listen but the others said this was not what they had come for. ‘We want our 30% or otherwise we are going to shut your site down’, they said.
“One of them then took the letter, threw it to the ground and stood on it,” Beneke said.
He said he feared for his life and those of his employees because of the threats that had allegedly been made.
One of the SMME owners, Thembinkosi Mcopele, admitted approaching Proservices employees on site.
Mcopele said considering that black people formed the biggest number of shoppers at the centre, they were entitled to benefit from work being done there.
Mcopele, who owns small construction business Phawu Elihle, said despite being in business for 10 years, he remained at a grade 1 level due to not being able to secure enough work in the metro.
“We buy in this shopping mall every single day,” he said.
“All we were asking for is for them to at least give us a slice as SMMEs, but they refused.
“We told them we were going to mobilise with other SMMEs and come back.
“[Beneke] was [allegedly] pushing one of our guys with his chest.
“We left because they threatened that they were going to call the police.
“As SMMEs we have to fight for jobs. The guys in the private sector exploit us.
“With the rate they give you, you can’t even pay your workers,” Mcopele said.
Several recordings, which are in The Herald’s possession, were allegedly taken during the altercations.
In one, a person says: “This is not the apartheid regime. Don’t come with your white tendencies. F*** you, man.
“This is our country. It’s a native country, not for white people. We are going to show you,” the man said.
In a separate recording, someone – allegedly one of the SMME owners – is heard saying: “We are talking about 30% – 30% is the law.”
Police spokesperson Warrant Officer Alwin Labans confirmed that a complaint of intimidation had been laid.
The Bridge spokesperson Sonica van der Meulen said the safety of contractors’ employees as well as shoppers was of the utmost importance.
“Security measures are in place – however, for obvious reasons, we are not able to discuss security matters,” she said.
Barry Probert, of Rousseau Probert Elliott quantity surveyors, said numerous private projects in the Bay had been affected by SMMEs demanding work, with workers intimidated and work halted.
“In the last two years, we’ve had a few incidents at housing schemes we’ve done in Walmer and Fairview, which – after a lot of drama and delays – were eventually sorted out.
“But, recently, we have had an incident at our Milkwood site, where work was again stopped and demands and threats made.
“In the case of the work being done at The Bridge, this sort of work can only be done by an accredited contractor because of the guarantees involved as well as the health and safety risks with all of the scaffolding and rope work.
“There is some private work where it is recognised that work will be allocated to SMMEs, but it’s not compulsory,” Probert said.
Municipal executive director for economic development, agriculture and tourism Anele Qaba said in the public sector, the policy stipulated that 30% of the work should be awarded to SMMEs but that supply chain management processes had to be followed.
“We have no say in the private sector as it is regulated differently,” he said.
Qaba said the municipality was aware of the plight of SMMEs.
The municipality hosted an SMME Indaba on October 30 at the Feather Market Centre in Port Elizabeth, which was attended by hundreds of small business owners and entrepreneurs.
The next Indaba is expected to take place in January.
“The workshop is meant to help us engage with the SMMEs because we don’t want to scare off investors, but we also want to ensure the benefits of investments are going to our own smaller businesses,” Qaba said.