Durban – A Bergville cement company has threatened to pull out of the small KwaZulu-Natal town after equipment worth millions of rand was allegedly set alight by a local business forum on Monday.
BergMix, a supplier of ready-mix concrete, is considering pulling out of this northern Drakensberg gateway after trucks, a bakkie and their control room were set on fire.
BergMix director Douglas Porrill said he was alerted by security guards at 2am and was informed that three trucks, a bakkie and their offices were in flames.
“The lead-up to this is that we’d been approached by a few guys calling themselves the Bergville Business Forum, demanding to take over 30% of our business and trying to insert themselves into our business,” he said.
He said they met the business forum in August, when they made their demands.
“They didn’t seem to have any legitimacy, so we formerly responded that we would not be entertaining any such measures and I’m sure that this is the consequence of that,” said Porrill.
He said there were also a few incidents where truck drivers who carry their materials were intimidated and told to leave before their trucks got burnt.
“Besides the direct asset loss, which is probably anywhere between R4million and R6million, we won’t be able to operate here for at least a month.”
He said BergMix was unable to continue production because the control room was damaged.
Porrill said they would cover their commitments from other plants based in Ladysmith and Estcourt, which meant that they would incur further costs.
“The bigger question is do we even consider coming back here? If this is the level of sabotage we have to deal with, I don’t know if we have the heart or the willingness to come back to the area,” he said.
He added that he was not willing to put his staff and subcontractors at risk.
The owner of two of the trucks that were burnt, who requested to remain anonymous, said after several threats by the business forum she decided to continue letting her trucks to BergMix.
“The replacement value of those two trucks is R1.7million each,” she said.
According to the subcontractor, three of her employees would be out of work with immediate effect.
Robert Ndlela, of the Federation for Radical Economic Transformation, said they did not have business forums in the logistics or trucking industry, adding that they also did not have any affiliated business forum in Bergville.
Ndlela noted that the federation had developed very good relationships with big business in a variety of sectors.
“We condemn the incident with all the contempt it deserves and we are more than keen to intervene where possible, and at the same time we say the police must decisively deal with criminal elements,” said Ndlela.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said charges of malicious damage to property were being investigated by Bergville SAPS.
“It’s alleged that in the early hours, three unknown suspects armed with a firearm held up the security guard and set alight a bakkie and three cement-mixing trucks,” she said.