SOUTH AFRICA – Truckers who transport goods along some of South Africa’s busiest freeways are increasingly being targeted in violent attacks that leave them scarred and traumatised, both physically and emotionally.
In June this year, police minister Bheki Cele and transport minister Fikile Mbalula spoke to a roomful of journalists about the torching of trucks in SA and announced the formation of an interministerial task force. Just two hours later, a truck stood abandoned and ablaze on the N2.
Between April 2018 and June this year, 74 trucks were attacked and damaged, according to a police report. An independent report by the N3 Toll Concession found that 50 trucks were set alight in this period.
In June, the Road Freight Association estimated damage to vehicles and cargo to be in the region of R1.2bn.
The crippling effect on the economy pales in comparison to the suffering of those harmed in the attacks.
Ronias Tavengwa, a Zimbabwean truck driver, sits hunched over in pain in his dimly lit, desolate Welbedagt home in the south of Durban.
Severe burns from his neck to his waist have left him crippled, unable to complete the simplest of tasks. He relies heavily on his wife, Thavisile, to give him water and food, and to clothe him on the rare occasion that he leaves his chair.
Tavengwa has received no compensation from his previous employers following the attack on his truck in April this year. His head hangs low as he describes the anguish he experiences at no longer being able to send his three children to school, for example.
Some in the industry attribute these attacks to outright criminality – a claim that may well be supported by documented instances of looting prior to the torching of some trucks.
Truck driver Elliot Chiliza disagrees, describing the mass hiring of foreign drivers as the root cause of the unrest.
That is a sentiment echoed by Tavengwa.
Initially accosted due to his foreign accent, he was told by his attackers that he was the reason their children had no food on the table.
Truck drivers have also claimed that foreign drivers are often hired at lower wages.
The All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF), a nonprofit organisation supporting South Africa’s truck drivers, publicly condemned violence in the transport industry in an August statement. It also demanded an immediate end to the employment of illegal immigrants in the industry and a ban on SA businesses employing foreign drivers.
But the organisation itself has stood accused of links to the violence.
ATDF chairperson Sipho Zungu said: “People always look at what’s going on and are quick to point fingers, but no one wants to look at the root cause of the problem and find a solution.”
Zungu counts himself among the mass of unemployed South African truck drivers. “I am a victim of unemployment. As we speak, I am sitting at home with my 15 years of truck-driving experience.”
The relentless looting and torching of trucks has created a desperate need for security for transport companies.
Trucks now need armed escorts along certain routes, notably the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg and the N2 between Durban and the Eastern Cape. These escorts are employed in areas identified as hotspots.
Certain areas such as the N2 past Mooi River have even been declared no-go zones. No truckers dare to risk that route.
Hawkeye Trucker Assist provides operational security, intelligence and armed escorts for trucks. MD Claudia Carvalho says the regular outbreaks of violence have a deep emotional effects on her team.
She is adamant that a lack of government action to counter the violence is the biggest hurdle the industry faces. So far there has been no direct government intervention, which means many other drivers may yet be doomed to a fate similar to Tavengwa’s.