The Drakensberg Mountains acted as a fine backdrop to this year’s Road Freight Association (RFA) conference giving a sort of ‘all is well with the world” atmosphere to the event. Personally
I would have preferred to see the conference being held in the middle of the night in the middle of winter in a tent alongside the N3 or any other major highway with delegates competing to have their voices heard above the roar of passing trucks. I know, of course, that would be impossible but it’s a nice thought. I say this because that’s where the real action is; that’s where the reality of trucking takes place. The pristine golf course surrounding the resort is about as far from trucking reality as is earth from Mars. I sketch this scenario not to knock the organisers. I mean you can’t hold a conference like this on the side of the road can you? Why I sketch it because what is being proposed of late by Government for the trucking industry is as far from the reality of trucking as is that golf course from Mars. What really worries me is that according to Sharmini Naidoo, the RFA’s chief executive officer, the DoT accused the RFA in a recent meeting of protecting operators and that “they will legislate as they see fit.” Now what kind of nonsense is that? If that is the DoT’s attitude, then the communication gap between the Department of Transport (DoT) and the trucking industry is huge – and this is bad, bad news.
The RFA is not ‘protecting’ operators – they are ‘representing’ their members who are truck operators. Because businesses of all kinds are subject to government oversight and regulation, it is imperative that business owners have a good relationship with local government leaders. Given that as a truth, how on earth can a good relationship exist between the DoT and the trucking industry when the DoT says it will legislate as it sees fit. That attitude basically nullifies the RFA as a source of input. Of course there are going to be differences of opinion but surely hearing those differences is part of the democratic process. Let’s have a look the danger of this ‘legislate as we see fit” approach. It lies in the new visa regulations announced in May last year and introduced on June 1st this year. Despite being warned by the tourism industry and others way ahead of time of the horrendous impacts these stringent regulations would have on tourism, Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, went his own way and “legislated as he saw fit” by introducing the new regulations. Now – after the fact – there is havoc being played out. In fact, just two days before the new regulations relating to child travellers came into effect, Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe – himself a former Transport Minister – told a World Economic Forum (WEF) pre-briefing that the government had prioritised the revision of the regulations as a matter of urgency. “Despite the noble intentions of these immigration policies (to combat child trafficking), they have had an unintended consequence which needs to be addressed,” said Radebe. And the “unintended consequence” is massive. The tourism industry stands to lose nearly R7-billion in the wake of cancellations from major tourism markets like China and India. Air China, in fact, cancelled the launch of direct flights to South Africa because of the regulations. And where are these tourists going? Mainly to Australia and places like Mauritius. So other countries are now getting the bucks that would have been spent in South Africa. Even President Jacob Zuma announced in his State of the Nation 2015 address that there would be a review but, as we have come to expect from this man, nothing happened. And now even the Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, has spoken out on the adverse consequences of the drop off in tourist numbers. The point is, why did Minister Gigaba not take note of the concerns raised by those in the industry before he went ahead and legislated as he saw fit. Why did he stick – almost arrogantly – to his way instead of working together with those at the coal-face in drafting the best way forward to meet the objective of combatting child trafficking without destroying an industry that South Africa depends on so much for employment and revenue?
The trucking industry – and South Africa as a whole – is now facing an equally devastating piece of legislation via the Minister of Transport announcing her intention to restrict all trucks with a GVM exceeding 9 000kgs from operating on public roads during peak hours. As economist Mike Schussler says: “This ‘freight shedding’ will damage much of the South African economy. Adding these restrictions would have a much bigger negative effect than the current wave of power outages as it would be permanent and overall, transport is a much bigger part of the economy than electricity.” The DoT has called for comment on this – and other intended legislation – and the RFA as well as other bodies have submitted their comments. However, if the DoT adopts the stance that they will “legislate as they see fit”, then what is the point? Many years ago the politicians ignored the advice of those in the know to build new power stations to cater for South Africa’s future economic growth – and look at the results today. South Africa has lost billions of Rand due to power outages. Minister Gigaba ignored the advice of those in the know not to introduce the stringent new visa regulations – and look at the results today. Can we now allow a Minister to ignore the advice of those in the know regarding the proposed restrictions on trucks – which is what the “we will legislate as we see fit” attitude implies? The answer is no, we can’t. This is not just about the DoT. It is about the well-being of South Africa as a whole. Comments have been submitted. Let’s now see the response. One thing is for sure though: We cannot allow this legislation to be passed. There is too much at stake to sit back and just suck it up.