Feb

An eventful 2011 so far , and lots more to come

2011-02-01 21:15
Patrick O'Leary - Publisher/Managing Editor

Welcome to our first edition of FleetWatch for 2011 and hey , it’s good to be back. I missed ya all! Hope you all had a great break , although that ‘˜break’ seems like ages ago. How’s the year looking for you? Hopefully you had a better start to it than the last two.

Remember January 2009 when we all got back from our holidays only to find the world’s leading banks had collapsed the global economy. It was horrible. At least this year has kicked off on a more positive note from a global economic perspective. As Cees Bruggemans, chief economist, First National Bank stated in one of his early year columns: “With the US heading towards 3.5% to 4% growth, with Europe and Japan nearer 2%, and China not giving any hint of wanting to slow too much, relying more on domestic demand, the world is steadily finding its way out of the very deep hole created by 2007-2009 events.’ Yes, please , bring it on!

But, as we are all aware, things can change rapidly in today’s volatile world. Just take a look at what happened in Egypt. From start to finish, it took just 18 days for the Egyptian people to get rid of their 80-something dictator President Hosni Mubarak who, after 30 years in power, had to step down in the face of a people’s revolution. Did you hear that clap-trap speech he gave on the night everyone was expecting him to step down? Typical politician , so out of touch with reality despite that reality staring him in the face in form of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians standing in the streets outside his palace chanting “Down with Mubarak , Leave, Leave!’ One wonders what part of ‘˜Leave’ he didn’t understand.

Instead of facing up to truth and reality, he instead chose to blame outside forces and pressures , including the media – for the people’s dissatisfaction. Who does that remind you of? How come the face of Bob Mugabe immediately comes to mind? And on our home front, we have more and more politicians now falling back on blaming the media for all the woes in the country. It’s such a cop-out from reality. But that’s what politicians do. Most of them need a serious reality check!

On the home front, a lot has happened to kick the year off. Did you watch the State of the Nation show , the one where President Jacob Zuma stars as main and supporting actor in his annual TV spectacular titled ‘˜Things to Dream of but Not to Implement’. Did you see how everyone was dressed to the hilt? Phew – judging by the size of most of them, it is obvious that our politicians eat well. There’s certainly no-one starving in Parliament. In-between the President’s cute little coughs and chuckles, he told us , among lots of other things – how our collapsed education system is absolutely great and that the big move this year would be to get teachers to actually go to their schools to see what the inside of a classroom looks like and to actually teach , for at least seven hours a day.

Wow! Hectic and proactive stuff this! He then drew out his trump card , the allocation of R9-billion for jobs creation and a package of tax breaks as incentives for investments. Eieesh! Hopefully some of those bucks will be directed at the trucking industry where driver training of new recruits is desperately needed to offset the serious driver shortage being experienced. There is an employment creation opportunity here if only the government would realise that there is a trucking industry in South Africa , one that actually keeps the wheels of our economy going in the face of non-performance from the rail brigade.

It was a ‘˜wee in the nappy’ type of speech designed to make us all feel warm. The problem, however, is that government’s record of implementation of stated ‘˜dreams’ and delivering on service promises is such a dismal one that one tends to automatically take anything the President says with a mere pinch of salt. Sorry about that Mr Zuma! You seem like a nice enough guy but you and your mates have created an aura around you all of self enrichment rather than service delivery.

Let’s hope this year we see some vigorous implementation on your promises. Perhaps the violent service delivery protests in Wesselton near Ermelo will act as an early-warning alarm bell that ‘˜sooner rather than later’ is the way to go on service delivery. What do those protesters want? It’s not to eat sushi off the bellies of models; it’s not to drive a fancy Mercedes-Benz or Audi. It’s much simpler than that: “We want RDP houses, water and electricity,’ said one of the protesters. That’s not asking a lot , especially after waiting 17 years for such basics.

Closer to our home on the trucking front, the year got off to a good start with sales of vehicles in the medium and heavy truck segments of the industry starting out on a strong note. January sales – at 636 and 959 units for mediums and heavies respectively – recorded a gain of 180 units, or 39,5%, in the case of medium commercials and 153 units, or 19,0%, in the case of heavy trucks and buses compared to the corresponding month last year. Commenting on this performance, NAAMSA said this was most encouraging as it suggested improved investment sentiment and prospects of higher levels of economic activity. That’s upbeat stuff for our industry.

Also showing an upbeat mood was UD Trucks during its traditional beginning of the year press conference where management reviews the past year and outlines prospects and plans for the year ahead. CEO Johan Richards is, by nature, an optimist but his smile seemed just that little bit wider this time than in the past. We’ll look at ‘˜why’ in our next issue.

But alas, in among all this good stuff came the announcement by SANRAL of the toll fee charges for the new Gauteng toll roads. The outcry from all quarters was immediate – and understandably so. We will be looking at that in a later edition.

Also on the bad news front comes the news that the four unions involved in wage negotiations with the Road Freight Employers Association have gone on strike having failed to reach agreement. As I write this, it is day 2 of the strike and already it has turned violent in the streets of Johannesburg. I have also had word of non-striking drivers being intimidated around the country to join the strikers. That’s thuggery not democracy. Strike violence and intimidation is the pits and the union leaders should, this time round, be made to stand accountable for damages by their members to company assets. Let’s just hope no-one gets killed. Hopefully you will know the outcome of the wage negotiations and whether or not the strike was peaceful by the time you read this. If it’s still on as you’re reading this, then this country is in the deep ‘˜dwang’ for South Africa cannot afford a protracted truck drivers’ strike. We’ll look at the issue in our next edition as this must now go to print.

An eventful 2011 so far? Certainly. A positive 2011 ahead? Absolutely. Good luck for 2011. May it be a great one for you and yours. Let’s go trucking – if you can find any drivers to drive.

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