Last year Gold Fields announced it would start building a solar plant to help power South Deep, one of the largest gold mines in the world. Soon afterwards, the South African mining firm got messages from several self-styled “business forums”, a euphemism belying their real interest: extortion. The forums demanded a cut of the contract to construct the plant. They followed up with texts to employees and unauthorised visits to the mine, which lies just outside Johannesburg.
The consequences of non-compliance were not spelt out. But they could be assumed. Since 2015 forums have spread from the province of KwaZulu-Natal to the rest of the country, invading construction sites and demanding a share of any deal. In 2019 forums affected at least 183 projects, worth more than 63bn rand ($4bn). That year gun-toting forum members led to two firms pulling out of a project to build what would have been the highest bridge in Africa. After the incident the boss of the South African firm said of its German partner: “They have worked in 80 countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq, but have never experienced anything like this.”