Letters to the editor

Copyright 2001 FleetWatch magazine and FleetWatch On-Line.

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June  2002



I'll shave my head if he does it!

If there is one guy who deserves the trucking industry's 'Instant Attention Grabbing' award it is the Gauteng MEC for Transport Khabisi Mosunkutu. This man rose up to prominence faster than Mark Shuttelworth rose up into space but whereas Mark's rise was sparked by rocket fuel, the Minister's was sparked by his announced intention to ban all trucks over 3 500kg GVM from Gauteng's freeways during peak traffic periods. The reason for this was to ease traffic congestion.

FleetWatch first heard of this in December and we covered it on our February edition sourcing response from various players in the industry. The idea of such a ban was strongly condemned by all. We couldn't find anyone who supported it. Most thought the Minister was crazy to even entertain such an idea. Even those to whom we spoke in his department seemed to favour alternative methods of easing congestion. We thought that would be it - that it was a flash-in-the-pan outburst of enthusiasm by the Minister as he headed towards finding solutions to easing traffic congestion in Gauteng. But no! As time went by, we realised the flash was actually the start of a roaring fire. The Minister was dead serious. He was going to impose the ban. Whoa Safari! Nou hier kom 'n ding! It was gloves off time...but he can't be serious!

The rumours were flying and in our normal fashion, when rumours fly FleetWatch goes either to the source or the target of the rumours. It was thus senior journalist Andrew Parker went to interview the Minister. He came back ashen-faced. "He is serious. He's going to do it!" whispered a distraught and disbelieving Parker as he sat down to write his copy. This is how his story started: "By the time you read this article, the world may have changed. If he has his way, with a wave of his legislative wand, Khabisi Mosunkutu may have transported us all into Noddy-Land - or at least into the neighbourhood."

After that, the article got down to the business of quoting the Minister's answers to various questions, such as where the trucks would park during the hours restrictions are in place. On this point, the Minister said there were plenty of truck stops and parking facilities. "I have seen these places along the road from Cape Town. There is plenty of space." But this is Gauteng! As regards the disruptions such a ban would have on supply chains, he said shippers, hauliers and receivers would need to communicate with each other and work out how they could accommodate staggered and after-hours deliveries. "They will have to re-schedule their operations. It's as simple as that."

That's when it hit me. The Minister was obviously working from a platform of not having the right information on hand pertaining to the role of the truck in society and the economy. If he had this information, he would realise it was not "as simple as that". I looked further into other press statements and this comment in The Citizen caught my eye. "At the moment, trucks are causing havoc on our roads and this situation can't be tolerated. People need to consider rail service as an alternative for transporting heavy goods." That's long haul, not short-haul distribution. You can't deliver bread, milk and other goods to suburban cafes, hospitals, and supermarkets by rail. It was just not adding up - especially since this man is no fool! Khabisi Mosunkutu is also not a wimp politician who tries to score political points through verbiage waffle rather than through solid action. Gee, this is the guy who took 100-or-so unroadworthy buses off the road. He is also the guy who has gone all out to get unroadworthy taxis off the road. And he is the man who, at the reopening of the Pretoria station which was destroyed in a fire by angry commuters, warned commuters that if they burnt State property again, they could walk. "If I was in power I would not have provided any alternative transport for anyone," he said. This is a man of action. I like him. He does the right things. We need politicians like him. So why was the truck ban going against his record of solid and sensible action? Sure, the Road Freight Association (RFA) had consulted with him - and we compliment the RFA on its initiative - but he needed more than that, as the RFA does not represent the entire trucking industry. Where were the dairies, the bakeries and the other urban distributors who would be drastically affected by such a ban?

To cut a long story short, I met with the Minister and we had an hour-and-a-half discussion. It was off-the cuff stuff and I gave him information on how distribution works, backed by input FleetWatch solicited from companies like Parmalat, Clover, the bakeries, the Value Group and others. It was a healthy discussion - a heart-to-heart chat almost - to give him a better handle on the role of the truck in society and on the new role the truck has taken on in servicing Just-in-Time manufacturing systems and other global trends now adopted by South Africa. The meeting ended with no bottom line - I didn't expect one - but with the Minister appreciating the information supplied. As I write, the decision is not yet made - it is mere days away - but we have to go to print now. So here goes: I'm going to stick my neck out and give my prediction.

The Minister is not going to go ahead with the ban. Instead, he is going to postpone his decision and look for further consultation. He may implement some action such as restricting combination vehicles to the left lane - a good idea - but the total ban won't go ahead. He will not be the cause of the chaos and loss of productivity that is sure to happen as depicted on our cover. I am saying this because I'm putting my bet on the Minister's desire to improve rather than destroy; to seek co-operation rather than confrontation; to nation-build with the best interests of all parties who are playing a role in building our wonderful country into a respected and admired global player.

As a last input. FleetWatch compliments the MEC for focussing attention on traffic congestion. No-one else has done this and it is the right thing to do. As the MEC says: "Gauteng is becoming one huge parking lot out there." But to ban trucks as the first step in what he terms will be an holistic approach, is the wrong thing to do. I don't think he will do it. And I'm so confident of this that here's my promise: "If he does, I will shave my head on the pavement outside the offices of the Gauteng Department of Transport in central Johannesburg".