A South African court has dismissed an attempt by the former contractor on the $123-million Mtentu Bridge to block a claim against the company by the South Africa National Roads Agency.

Aveng-Strabag Joint Venture (ASJV), which is a joint venture between South Africa’s Aveng and Strabag International GmbH, terminated its contract with the roads agency in October.

The joint venture said protests and threats by the community against the roads agency had been directed toward the construction team and included threats of violence. Those protests and threats forced the contractor to halt construction in October 2018, and the contractor terminated its agreement Jan. 30, citing a force majeure.

The 1.1 km Mtentu River bridge, designed by DISSING+WEITLING architecture, has a 260-m main span constructed as a balanced cantilever with main piers approximately 160 m high, plus approach viaducts constructed using incremental launching methods. High Court Judge Nana Makhubela dismissed the contractor’s application on the same day it was made, with costs, but did not immediately provide reasons for the dismissal. The contractor says it wishes to settle its dispute with the roads agency before any claim is awarded or settled.

The performance guarantee  totals only $17 million. A separate retention guarantee is for $5.7 million. The contractor said it “has provisionally noted its intention to appeal the order which will be supplemented when the reasoned judgement is made available.” 

There is no dispute about the termination of the contract and the Aveng Strabag Joint Venture has no obligation, plan or intention to return to site to resume the works,” said Tracey Patterson on behalf of ASJV. The roads agency had awarded the contract for the construction of the Mtentu River Bridge in November 2017 after a competitive international tender and was to be constructed in 40 months.

The roads agency “took the approach that there was no force majeure and that the ASJV’s termination constituted a repudiation/abandonment of the contract,” said Patterson. 

“The question of the validity of either party’s termination, which is ultimately at the heart of the matter, is in essence a legal question, but one where the answer depends heavily on the facts pertaining to the reasons for cancellation,” added Patterson.

The roads agency has not responded to requests for additional information on the contract.