Hundreds of millions of Rand have been lost over the past four weeks to the trucking industry and the economy due to so called ‘protestors’ torching trucks in the Kwa-Zulu Natal area on the N3. The motive behind the attacks has been put down to protests against the employment of foreign drivers but is that it? Patrick O’Leary, editor of FleetWatch, thinks not.
It all started on April 2nd when in the early hours of the morning, tyres were set alight on the south bound lane on the N3 under the bridge on the approach to the Mooi River toll plaza. The driver of a truck belonging to SNB Freight stopped a little way from the burning tyres when he saw a group of men standing on the road in front of him. In a matter of seconds, these men were onto his truck. He tried to do a U-turn but by then, the ‘protestors’ were stoning the cab.
He jumped out his rig and they were onto him asking him if he was a foreigner. He said no, he is a local South African and tried to show them his South African driver’s licence. They weren’t interested. What they were interested in was for him to get back into the cab so they could burn him inside his cab. What saved him was the arrival of three cops from the local Mooi River police station. They managed to rescue him from the crowd and took him to the police station where he would be safe. Click this link to see an interview with the driver on the scene.
Back on the road, the ‘protestors’ then went about torching other trucks. A total of 11 trucks were burnt – including two Spar trucks off the N3 which were burnt and looted in the town. Mooi River was a war zone.
If these guys were targeting foreign drivers, why then did they want to burn to death a local driver. According to the driver, they showed no interest in him pleading that he was a local South African citizen. This confirmed my suspicion when I first heard of these ‘protest’ – and that is why I am loath to use the words ‘protest’ or ‘protestors’ in this article. It was an attack.
Burning and looting of trucks happens all over the country and has become a huge problem for transporters. Trucks, by nature of the routes they travel all over the country, get caught up in numerous service delivery protests and if they are hauling goods worthy of a place on the local kitchen shelves, the looters take advantage.
There are also times when, even if the truck is not hauling anything worthy of looting, it still gets burnt. As we all know, a protest in South Africa cannot be a fully-fledged protest unless tyres are burnt. A truck has lots of tyres so it makes huge flames. South Africans protests must make this country the biggest contributor to global warming.
This was different though. The Mooi River incident was not started by looters wanting to fill their cupboards. They got in on the act and rode on the back of the chaos. There were other people involved. Even the tatty little card-board sign that was placed on the bridge told of this not being the action of disgruntled local truck drivers. A truck driver has to have a basic literacy level and you don’t spell foreign as it was spelt on the piece of cardboard which read: “No More Forein 100%’.
It did come out later that there were a number of combis that arrived at Mooi River during the night and dropped people off. Who were these people? Where did they come from? That is the mystery. ‘They’ had started it – but who are ‘they’.
And so we went through April and then, in the early hours of Thursday, April 26th, we heard of two trucks being burnt near the Winterton off-ramp on the N3. Was it a crash? No! Initial reports stated they were burnt by protestors. This again did not make sense as it was in the middle of nowhere so I traced the owner of one of the trucks and he put me onto one of his guys on the scene.
What had transpired is that the mysterious ‘they’ had rolled hay bales onto the N3 and set them alight – obviously to get trucks to stop. This was the same tactic used by the attackers at Mooi River over the Easter long weekend. In that case, they used burnt tyres to get the trucks to stop. In this case, hay bales were used.
One truck stopped and then a second one stopped behind him thinking there was a crash ahead. I was told that three or four people rushed out the veld towards the rig and the driver quickly got out his cab. They tried to force him to get back into the cab but he managed to escape and ran off into the veld where he hid. Whether with a petrol bomb or some other method, they then set the truck on fire. The front truck had also been set alight.
Here again, the driver was not asked whether he was a South African or a foreigner. The fact that they wanted the driver to get back into the cab is extremely worrying for they obviously wanted to burn him along with the truck. This is the same as what happened to the one driver at Mooi River. I can only conclude that these ‘attackers’ were the same people who destroyed the trucks at Mooi River. There was no intention of looting here and they had no interest in whether the driver was local or foreign. They wanted to burn trucks – and they did. But who are ‘they’.
The very next night, at around 3.30am on April 27th, the mysterious ’they’ struck again with another truck being burnt on the N3 – this time near the Lion’s River/Curry Post off-ramps. A truck from DSV was forced to stop and the driver made to park the truck across both the south bound lanes thus completely blocking the lanes. The ‘attackers’ were using the same tactics.
The first truck to come up behind was hauling manganese in a side-tipper link. That immediately takes out any inference of these guys being ‘looting protestors’. You can’t eat manganese! The attackers ignored the smaller cars and walked directly to this truck. The driver was taken by total surprise as he told me he had stopped a little way from the ‘obstruction’ and was sitting relaxed in his cab thinking it was a crash holding up the road. Then they were onto him.
“They were very aggressive to me and forced me to get out the truck. While they were pouring petrol into the cab and around the truck, I managed to run away and hide off the road. I then saw them set the truck on fire. When my truck was burning, I saw them get into a small car and leave. At the same time, the container truck in the front drove away,” the driver told me.
Here again, they did not ask him if he was a foreign or local driver when they hauled him out the cab. They were there to burn the truck and that attack dealt a huge blow to the owner of the company, who I also spoke to. He runs five trucks and it’s now down to four. That’s a massive dent in his business. Oh, and if anyone is interested, the owner is a Black guy – a good guy. So these attackers are not only destroying trucks but also destroying companies – whether Black or White owned – and the prospects of economic growth which South Africa so desperately needs to create employment.
On April 30th, the attackers again struck around the Mooi River plaza. As has been well publicised, this was a big one which resulted in 26 trucks being totally burnt and 12 badly damaged. The looters from the local community once again got in on the act with many of the trucks being looted. Later reports put it at 54 the number of looters who were arrested.
Do you see the trend that has emerged here? This now needs the highest intervention. Gavin Kelly from the Road Freight Association puts the figure from the April 30th attacks at R300-million losses for the industry and the economy.
These ‘attackers’ are sabotaging and ‘taking control’ of one of South Africa’s most important and busiest trucking routes while also holding the trucking industry and indeed the entire economy, to ransom. They cannot be allowed to do this but the big question which needs to be answered is: Who are ‘they’?
Who do you think ‘they’ are Mr Ramaphosa? This is high profile stuff that captures the attention of the international media and projects an extremely negative image of our country at a time when you, as South Africa’s President, are trying so hard to make South Africa an attractive and stable investment destination. This needs your attention Sir. Stop the trucks and you stop the economy.