The newly appointed Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula,
says that unscrupulous transport operators and illegal foreign national truck
drivers are to blame for the recent spate of violence.
For local truck drivers, 2019 has proven to be the deadliest and most dangerous period on the roads in recent history. In the last 18 weeks alone, over 200 truck drivers have been subject to violent attacks – some resulting in fatalities – while more than 2000 vehicles have been damaged by illegal blockades, stoning and arson.
Truck attacks wreak havoc on the roads
The nationwide situation has rapidly deteriorated into
unmitigated chaos on South African highways, with drivers fearing for their
lives every time they get behind the wheel. In an attempt to quell the rampant destruction,
government has sanctioned the formation of an inter-ministerial task team,
comprising of Transport and Police – the latter, led by Minister Bheki Cele.
According to Cele, recent attacks on truck drivers in the Western Cape, while equally destructive and deadly, are regarded as separate incidents – with their own complex factors – compared to disruptions experienced further north and inland.
During a recent meeting with stakeholders in the transport
sector, Mbalula outlined the motives behind the carnage. According to the
Minister of Transport, tensions within the sector have been inflamed by illegal
business practices, in particular, that of employing foreign nationals who do
not possess proper permits. Local truck drivers have taken exception to this
crooked arrangement – which centres on cheap labour – and have, as a result,
turned to protest.
Mbalula, who has been forced to hit the ground running in
his new ministerial position, has taken a hard-line approach to the dissidence,
“The law is the law – South Africa is not a banana republic. We will not tolerate any tendency that seeks to undermine our hard-earned freedom within our democracy. Anarchists and people who want to terrorise society have got the mind of a rat.
We’ve warned them. The law will prevail.”
Attackers use ‘guerilla tactics’
The Minister added that the protesters were using ‘guerrilla tactics’ to carry out attacks on trucks – a strategy which has proven particularly difficult to fight through conventional law enforcement procedures. Nevertheless, Mbalula remains confident that recent breakthroughs would lead to imminent arrests and that further engagement with disgruntled drivers would ease tensions.
The recent spate of truck attacks has had a disastrous
impact on the local industry and economy, a fact which Mbalula has acknowledged.
The minister elaborated on the current situation, explaining:
“We are working very hard to arrest the carnage. We are working with everybody – business, operators, truck drivers – to address their issues.
At the centre of it – it’s a labour dispute. People are crying foul, South Africans, that job creation is being undermined by the operators – they employ illegal people in the country.”
Truck industry’s labour dispute explained
Mbalula added that operators were entitled to employ foreign
nationals, so long as all documentation and applicable permits were in order.
He did, however, explain that there was no skill shortage of local truck
drivers and, as such, unemployed South African citizens, with the necessary requirements,
should be prioritised. Mbalula said:
“In South Africa, the skill for driving a truck is in abundance – it’s not like a scarcity of artisans. There are over a million drivers here who must actually be employed.
If you’ve got our fellow Africans who are working here, they must work here with the necessary permits and within the context of the law.
The employers must not use the misery of unemployment of our African people to promote cheap labour at the expense of job creation in South Africa. We are opposed to that.”