‘I ran for my life’- Truck driver

2018-05-02 16:45
Moping up operations on the N3 in the wake of Sunday night's mayhem.

Moping up operations on the N3 in the wake of Sunday night's mayhem. (Nhlanhla Nkosi )

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A truck driver on Tuesday described his terror when he fled from attackers and watched helplessly from a distance as the vehicle went up in flames on Sunday night.

The truck driver, who hails from Harrismith, spoke to The Witness on condition of anonymity as he feared reprisals. He was one of numerous truckers who fell victim to a group of violent protesters. In total 18 trucks were torched and burnt to ashes and 17 others were damaged in the attack, as well as by looters.

To date no one appears to have been able to ascertain if the protesters have links to any specific organisation or union. Police said on Monday that it was believed the group were protesting about foreigners being employed as truck drivers.

The South African-born truck driver recounted on Tuesday how he was forced to abandon his truck while parked near the Mooi River toll plaza. He said he had pulled off the N3 and stopped near Pick n Pay alongside the highway when the ordeal unfolded.

“I could see lights from a distance but it didn’t click that those could be from burning trucks. While I was sitting in the truck a man walked up to my window.

“He pointed to the lights and told me that that was his truck burning. He said I should quickly take my belongings and run,” he said.

The trucker said he took his identity document and starting packing it in a bag along with his clothes. But when he looked up, he saw a group of people running straight towards his truck. “I had to leave everything and run because I didn’t know if those people had good or bad intentions. There were so many people charging at me I can’t even estimate how many people were there. I just ran for my life. They chased me for a short distance but I outran them.”

He ran far away to where other people, including other truck drivers, were standing. From there, he watched as the truck he had been driving went up in flames.

“I couldn’t believe it. Everything happened so fast and I was terrified and confused, I just wanted to leave that area. I didn’t even know why we were being attacked,” he said.

The man said he called his employers and told them what had happened. He then had to hitch-hike to get away from the Mooi River area because he felt unsafe.

He has since opened a case about the burnt truck in Harrismith.

“Most of my belongings were burnt along with that truck.

“I lost most of my clothes and the file with all my personal documents like work claim forms, permits, delivery papers and my ID. I doubt I will be getting my full month’s salary because some of my work claim forms were burnt,” said the father of three young children.

The man said despite being traumatised by his ordeal, he was not deterred from being a truck driver. “This is the only job I know and it supports my family, so as soon as all my things are back in order, I am going back to work.”

Con Roux, N3 Toll Concession spokesperson, said everything was running smoothly at the Mooi River toll plaza yesterday thanks to Monday’s clean-up operations. He said the burnt wreckage of the trucks and the rubble left behind by looting was all removed.

Roux said the road surface was extensively damaged by the heat of the fires but the toll plaza itself was not damaged. “All the trucks have been removed and all the loads and ashes have been removed. We have made temporary repairs to the road like filling the holes and removing loose stones. We will still need to do permanent repairs but that won’t be done today as we are expecting a high volume of traffic and we need all the lanes to be open.”

Roux said traffic from KZN towards Gauteng picked up dramatically at midday yesterday with around 2 200 vehicles an hour driving through the Mooi River toll plaza. The volume increased from 1 400 per hour at 10 am.

He added that the N3 was closed in both directions for a long period in the Van Reenen’s Pass area following an accident yesterday. Cars were diverted via the Bergville road, the Winterton road or onto the M11 towards Newcastle.

The damage suffered by the transport industry due to Sunday’s violence was estimated at around R240 million by Road Freight Association spokesperson Gavin Kelly this week. Police said the people they’d arrested in connection with the incident (including looters) rose yesterday to 56 with police making two further arrests since Monday.

Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said the suspects, aged between 17 and 46, are expected to appear in the Mooi River Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.

“A total of 56 people have been arrested for public violence and possession of property suspected to be stolen. Groceries such as meat, burger patties, rolls of tissue, floor tiles and toilet paper were recovered when the police stormed the area yesterday [on Monday].

“Our police officers are still in the area monitoring the situation and tracing those involved in the violence and looting,” said Mbhele.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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