Strabag abandons flagship South African bridge project over “threats of violence”

Protests by villagers angry at broken promises of employment have caused Austrian contractor Strabag and its South African joint venture partner Aveng to terminate a $130m contract to build a major bridge in South Africa.

The JV, called ASJV, has done no work on the 1.132-km-long Mtentu Bridge since 22 October 2018 "due to threats of violence and levels of community unrest and protest action", Aveng said Monday. 

It told the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) it was quitting on 30 January.

"Aveng and Strabag … have come to the reasoned conclusion that the ASJV cannot resume the execution of the works given the risk to the safety and wellbeing of its personnel and has therefore elected to terminate the Mtentu Contract following consultation with external legal advice," the statement said.

It added: "SANRAL has expressed the view that although the demands of the community have yet to be fully resolved, its engagement process has reached a stage where works can continue safely. The ASJV does not agree with SANRAL’s view and related events do not support SANRAL’s view."

The contractors will now try and protect $24.2m (R326.8m) in contract securities pledged to SANRAL.

ASJV won the contract to build the bridge across the Mtentu River in August 2017. It is part of the N2 Wild Coast toll road project.

At the time a SANRAL official said: "No South African firm has ever done a balanced cantilever bridge of this magnitude before. As such, South African tenderers have joint ventured with international firms to bring skills and expertise into the bridge’s construction." 

In October 2018 local people blocked the building site, demanding that SANRAL keeps promises to give jobs to the locals. 

The N2 project has also been challenged in court over the road’s impact on communities through which it passes.

In November SANRAL said the project had been halted due to violent protests, in which "workers and management were threatened with assault rifles". 

The agency said: "At the heart of the dispute is simply that, while locals have been employed, those that weren’t felt they should have been. There are only so many jobs per contract, which unfortunately means that not every unemployed person can be accommodated. SANRAL cannot condone hooliganism and aggression as a means of demanding who must be given jobs."

Image: Render of Metentu Bridge by its architect, Denmark’s Dissing & Weitling

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