Torching an industry

2019-05-20 16:48
26092012. ** Nuus  Die Burger.  Striking truck drivers set a truck on flames in Nyanga as part of the National SATAWU wage strike. FOTO: Lulama  Zenzile.

26092012. ** Nuus Die Burger. Striking truck drivers set a truck on flames in Nyanga as part of the National SATAWU wage strike. FOTO: Lulama Zenzile.

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KwaZulu-Natal is in the grip of an escalating war that has seen long-distance trucks torched and truck drivers being attacked.

The incidents have sparked fear in the road-freight logistics industry, as many logistics companies have been forced to park their trucks for fear of attack.

Last Sunday night, two trucks had bricks thrown at them while driving through Pietermaritzburg. The bricks shattered a windscreen, narrowly missing the driver and hitting the second driver who was sleeping inside.

The incident came after the N3 was blocked at several points, including Townhill as well as the R34 near Richards Bay, last month.

There is only one consensus from the South African drivers: logistic companies should immediately dismiss all foreign drivers and only employ South African drivers.

This week, KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele said no arrests have been made thus far in connection with any of the attacks.

Mbele said, however, that investigations into the various attacks are continuing. “We are on top of the situation,” she said.

“Police are conducting intensive operations to curb similar incidents and arrest the perpetrators.

“The motive of the attacks is part of ongoing investigations. Crime intelligence is working on those causing the disruptions, especially in KZN. We have averted a lot of situations that would have caused further disruptions and destruction,” she said.

She said there are no identified hot spots for the attacks, adding that they happen in any area.

Mbele implored truck drivers to stop only at the designated truck stops. “They must refrain from stopping anywhere on the roadside. They must always be alert,” she said.

Truck owners who spoke to Weekend Witness this week said the ugly incidents taints the industry’s reputation.

Ashan Nunkoo of Scorpio Transport, who had his freight liner’s horse torched in March, said it has impacted on his business. “Losing a truck has not only impacted on business operations, but I feel we will lose credibility in the market. People will not feel their goods are protected by us.

“We are now a vehicle short, which we are still paying instalments towards. We cannot allow this to continue,” said Nunkoo.

A truck owner speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We have to keep our trucks on the road to be in business, but I’m very concerned about my trucks.”

He added that truck owners are worried about the lack of government action to address the matter. “Since we met with government officials, there has been no movement and there are no police on the N3. If the area is a hot spot, it doesn’t make sense not to police it.”

26092012. ** Nuus  Die Burger.  Striking truck dri

The smashed window of the Time-Link truck that had a brick thrown through its windscreen from a bridge near the Liberty Midlands Mall last Sunday. 

Another truck owner who asked not to be named, said his truck driver had to abandon his truck when he was attacked earlier this year. “This situation has been so stressful to the transport fraternity as it is affecting our livelihood. There seem to be no warnings at all as this took us by great surprise and we are caught in the crossfire.”

According to the Positive Freight Solutions Forum, a trucking forum representing more than 300 operators and 4 000 trucks, since 2015, 40 long-distance haulage trucks have been destroyed in KwaZulu-Natal.

In April last year, 35 trucks were damaged along the N3 in Mooi River. Trucks were also looted.

Last month, an SK Trucking driver was pulled out of his truck before his attackers doused him and his truck with petrol. The attackers then parked the truck across all three lanes, causing three cars to crash into it due to poor visibility in misty conditions.

In March, The Witness reported that 11 trucks were set alight on the N3 between Mooi River and Estcourt. Four of the trucks were petrol bombed in the early hours of March 21, and a truck driver badly beaten. In another incident also in March, the N3 was blocked at Cliffdale by a group who were reportedly asking truck drivers for their licences.

On May 3, a truck driver was injured when his truck was set alight on the N3 near Ohrtmann Road. The driver sustained burns to his arm.  

Two weeks ago, an inter-departmental team headed by Transport Minister Blade Nzimande, met with the representatives of the National Bargaining Council (Freight) and the All Truck Drivers Foundation.

Protesters attempted to block the N3 southbound at

Protesters who attempted to block the N3 southbound at Cato Ridge last month were quickly dispersed by the police. 

A subsequent report from the ministerial team said it had found that some employers have been accused of flouting labour laws. The report said there is also rife fraudulent abuse of the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit and the selling of driver’s licences by foreign drivers and by some South Africans and companies.

The ministerial team also raised the concern that some companies are employing people on a visitor’s visa, which is against the provisions of the Immigration Act.

In terms of the law, employers are required to ascertain the status of the foreign nationals they intend to appoint before employing them.

The Positive Freight Solutions Forum has said that the employment requirement for the industry demands requisite experience before allowing people to work for long-distance haulage companies. While the forum confirmed that the industry employs foreign nationals, it said those workers have the right documentation and are legally allowed to work in South Africa. It said foreign truck drivers are paid salaries in line with the rates agreed at the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight Logistics Industry.

Gavin Kelly, the acting chief executive of the Road Freight Association, said they have appealed to the government to address the matter with urgency.

“Task teams have been engaging with the so-called ‘representatives’ of the ‘aggrieved drivers’, but these either change or disappear, and then appear elsewhere.

“Our union partners have also engaged through the council to assist with the matter. In many cases, the actions are purely criminal in intent (looting) and seem to be aimed at destabilising objectives.

“If the foreign driver issue was as great as it is portrayed to be, it would be reasonably easy to solve as both labour and immigration legislation adequately cover the matter, and have done so for a number of years. This is not the real issue,” said Kelly.

Is Crime Intelligence failing?

Gareth Newham, securities expert at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said that although he cannot state firmly that the recent spate of truck burnings is an indication that crime intelligence is failing, the police should be monitoring the hot spots closely because of historical occurrences.

“The police should be able to monitor the involved groups closely because they know that there is a likelihood of public violence, property being destroyed and people’s lives being at risk,” he said.

“Crime intelligence should be able to know quite quickly who was involved, who planned the destruction, and where they live.”

Newham said the attacks on foreign drivers undermine South Africa’s image in Africa.

“It harms South Africa’s ability to grow the economy and to create jobs based on trade with other African countries,” he said.

Newham said the attacks were likely fuelled by “xenophobic attitudes”.

“Around 30% to 40% of South Africans have xenophobic attitudes towards other African foreign nationals.

“The reason is that there is a myth that people from other African countries come to South Africa to steal local jobs and commit crimes.

“If we shut all the borders and we kick out every foreign national from Africa in South Africa, we would still have a very high unemployment rate, high levels of poverty, and a high crime rate because most of the problems are as a result of systemic and government failures.”

Newham said foreigners are also targeted because South Africans know that in most cases, the police will not take the cases seriously.

From the truck drivers’ point of view

All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF) chairperson Sipho Zungu said local truck drivers are pleased that the government is finally doing something about their plight.

“The solutions are there, and we are nearing the point where we will be able to announce the way forward where the solutions will be non-violent and non-confrontational or destructive,” he told Weekend Witness.

On the violent protests that have occurred across the country, Zungu said truck drivers are not involved in these.

“We have been engaging in peaceful protests to highlight our plight but what then happened is that people who are not truck drivers did certain things such as burning the trucks. We don’t know who those people are,” he said.

“The ATDF is not calling for chaos. We have been following orderly negotiations and are coming up with solutions which we will be able to announce shortly,” he said.

Zungu said unemployed South African drivers feel they are being sidelined by logistics companies.

“We are fighting for local drivers who are sitting at home unemployed, not to be sidelined. South African drivers should be given first preference as this is not a scarce skill [that justifies] employers considering employing foreigners,” he said.

Ripple effect on economy

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said KZN’s economy is reliant on the logistics sector.

“This criminal and destructive behaviour is extremely damaging to the economy and perpetrators should be dealt with swiftly and should be made to face the full might of the law,” she said.

Veness said arrests are vital at this stage to reduce the ripple effects the blockade could have on the economy.

The spokesperson for KZN Economic Development, Bongani Tembe, said: “We have not quantified the exact impact in terms of numbers, but the impact on jobs and the GDP will be huge, hence we are concerned as the provincial government.” — WWR.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  truck strike
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