The spike in freight truck attacks nationwide has stirred fear across the industry, which faces the risk of losing drivers as well as export partners due to safety concerns, particularly on the N3 highway between Durban and Johannesburg.
Stakeholders who have been assessing the attacks have branded the violence as acts of “economic sabotage”, warning that there will be dire consequences for economic growth and investment should there not be any intervention from the authorities.
Speaking at a National Press Club event highlighting the issue of criminality in the truck industry, Danie Day, a private investigator who monitors cases of truck hijackings and attacks for insurance companies, said his office has been investigating between 30 and 40 cases of truck attacks a month.
“The okes are concerned and the drivers have made it very clear that they will abandon the trucks because they cannot continue to work under these circumstances,” said Day.
“Sadly, the police are not making a difference with regard to protecting the people en route.”
Day says that while there are opportunistic attacks on trucks caught in service delivery protests and acts of xenophobia due to disgruntlement around companies employing foreign national drivers, there is evidence of a “third force” behind the violence.
He could not specify who the force is but many in the industry have placed blame on the All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF) for the violence as it has been reported as saying that the fight against foreign truck drivers will continue until companies stop employing them.
“They have the same principles as the mafia because they intimidate the drivers and they intimidate the transporters,” says Day. “They cripple the whole economy because no one can transport between Durban and Johannesburg.”
He adds that while the attacks seem to have originated in KwaZulu-Natal, they have become more widespread with his office receiving cases in the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, which had not previously experienced these issues.
What is happening now, says Day, is that if a truck that has broken down stops next to the road, or stops outside a truck stop for any reason, it is likely to be attacked. In the worst-case scenario, the perpetrators throw petrol bombs into the trucks while they are moving.
The road freight industry contributes about R121 billion to the economy, and the industry’s association has previously said that the violent attacks have cost the economy between R1.2 billion and R1.3 billion.
Just last week an inter-ministerial committee comprising the ministers of transport, police, labour and home affairs met over three days in Durban to address the issues faced by the industry. This came after a weekend of unrest where at least 17 trucks were torched in KwaZulu-Natal.
Soon after their announcement of interventions, such as increased policing, more attacks followed – prompting a stern rebuke from Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula who exclaimed that government will not “allow for any parts of the country to be declared a no-go zone”.
Durban is the biggest import and export port in sub-Saharan Africa for the motor industry, but economist Mike Schüssler says the continuous violence could drive the country’s trading partners, particularly its neighbouring countries, to use other ports.
Schüssler says there could be a move towards the Port of Walvis Bay in Namibia by the likes of Botswana, while Zimbabwe and Zambia could choose to move more of their exports through the Port of Beira in Mozambique.
“We are going to damage our relations with the rest of Africa,” says Schüssler.
“We are going to damage the one part of our economy that has been growing its exports vigorously despite the downturn in African growth rates into Africa.”
He points out that the country’s ability to send value-added goods into the continent is an advantage that should not be damaged.
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