An overwhelming acrid stench hung in the air over the Mooi River toll plaza’s “hell run” on Monday as smoke billowed from the burnt-out shells of 18 trucks.The scene resembled the aftermath of a war zone with the affected sections of the N3 littered with the wreckage of the previous night’s violence. Mopping-up operations were well under way, with the trucks’ scorched metal remains being loaded onto the back of tow trucks.The usually bustling highway was hushed, as if in mourning.The night before, all hell broke loose when unruly protesters took the law into their own hands, looting trucks and setting them alight. In the second incident in a month, truck drivers, apparently protesting against the employment of foreign drivers, went on a violent rampage.Damage has been estimated at around R240 million, 54 people were arrested (including alleged looters) and a total of 35 trucks were damaged. Of these 18 burnt to ashes.By midday on Monday, firefighters were still dousing the smouldering remains of some fires.Acting chief fire officer for uMgungundlovu District fire services, Ricky Pillay, said they called for back-up from the Howick fire station to fight the fires overnight. “The area was volatile and tense. We couldn’t get in immediately to extinguish the fires, stones were being thrown and we had to wait for police escort.”Pillay said they only started putting out the fires at around 9 pm on Sunday.“We heard the protesters speaking in bushes and it made it dangerous for us to go in there,” added Pillay.Firefighters douse the smouldering remains of 18 trucks that were torched near the Mooi River toll plaza. A total of 35 trucks were damaged when protests over the employment of foreign drivers erupted on Sunday night.Truck owners were still taking stock after the burning and looting spree.Police made a total of 54 arrests, including of residents of Bruntville who were caught with stolen goods. They are expected to appear in court on Wednesday, said KZN police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane.Road Freight Association spokesperson Gavin Kelly said everyone in the industry believed the earlier incident at Mooi River plaza earlier this month was an isolated one.“We thought they [truck drivers] had made their point and that they would now follow other means as had been suggested to them. “The protest came as a surprise to everybody,” said Kelly.Kelly estimated the total damage suffered by trucking companies could run as high as R240 million.The damages include the costs of the vehicles, the cargo being transported, as well as costs to the drivers.Kelly said it was an unfair notion to say only foreigners are employed as truck drivers.“We have South African truckers, only a minority are foreign nationals.”Sarah Lubbe of Barloworld Logistics said one of their Aspen Logistics vehicles was impacted.“We are dismayed and angry at the actions in Mooi River on Sunday night,” said Lubbe.“The transport industry is the lifeblood of our country and the men and women driving our vehicles are invaluable to the industry,” Lubbe said.She said the Aspen Logistics truck had been travelling to Durban with a load of refrigerated and ambient food products.The driver escaped unharmed but the truck was severely damaged.Barloworld Logistics said it had opened a case of malicious damage to property afterwards.Firefighters had their hands full after 18 trucks were torched near the Mooi River toll plaza.A truck of Bloemfontein-based logistics company Langvic Vervoer were also caught up in the protest.Owner Jaco Victor said: “It’s sad because we have no control over this. “They say they are protesting against all the foreign drivers, but my drivers are South African. I don’t understand what the issue is.”The Langvic Vervoer truck had been travelling to Durban with R600 000 worth of chromium plates. It was one of the first three trucks to be torched.Victor said the driver from Harrismith, who managed to escape unscathed, was left very traumatised.“They chased him away and he ran into the fields. He is fine but he is shaken. He thought he was going to die.”Victor said various transport companies had received ominous messages about a strike action that was planned for today, May 1.“We didn’t know anything about the protest on Sunday night. When we were alerted about it, it was already too late and we couldn’t re-route our trucks.”A resident who lives 50 metres away from the Mooi River toll plaza said he watched in horror as a mob torched two trucks.“They stopped the first truck on the northbound towards Estcourt and set it alight. Later on we saw that there were two other trucks burning on the opposite side.”The resident, who declined to be named, said as trucks backed up the protesters went on a rampage and set alight all the trucks that were lined up on the side of the road.“It was chaotic. There were sounds [like] gunshots and exploding tyres. The area was covered in thick smoke.”SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi said the truck owners should take the blame for the incident.“It is the greedy employers generating feelings of xenophobia by deliberately sidelining local workers and preferring foreign nationals. Anger must be redirected to these unscrupulous bosses, not fellow workers,” he posted on Twitter.Meanwhile MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Mxolisi Kaunda said the incident could have been averted. “When it happened three weeks back, we were supposed to put in place systems that would prevent a recurrence,” he said.Kaunda said although police were still investigating the motive for the attacks, he said it appears obvious that the riot was a continuation of the original truck drivers’ protest.“It should not happen like this. If people are raising labour issues, there are proper channels. Burning things and putting people’s lives in danger is a call for police to act on criminality. This is a barbaric act and it should be condemned as such,” he said.Kaunda pleaded with community members from Bruntville to stay away from the protest scene. “It should be noted that this is one of the poverty-stricken communities in the province. There were industries here, this town was economically viable. Since the industries have left, it has impacted on the high unemployment rate.“But we are not justifying anything. We are saying communities should distance themselves from this,” he said.