COMMENTARY: Trucking and freight industries need government help

22 December 2020 - 09:08 By Road Freight Association, South African Association of Freight Forwarders and South African Express Parcel Association
The costs of truck attacks actions are not just borne by the transport industry but by all consumers who could face increased prices for goods in the future.
The costs of truck attacks actions are not just borne by the transport industry but by all consumers who could face increased prices for goods in the future.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Continuing attacks against transporters in SA threaten to derail the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement that was again endorsed by African leaders at the recent AU Summit.

If order is not restored, the consequences could be catastrophic — not only for SA, but for the rest of Africa.

Transport is the ultimate enabler — of both infrastructure development and trade. It serves many sectors of the economy such as manufacturing, health, agriculture, mining, consumer goods and food. It unlocks value chains and all of the job opportunities that come with these activities. All economies depend on the movement of goods and people. By connecting areas of economic activity within a country and between African countries, transport increases access to much-needed markets and services. Transport provides the means for emerging markets and developing countries to integrate into the global economy. It is therefore a crucial aspect of the preconditions needed to make AfCFTA a success.

AfCFTA — Unprecedented growth opportunity

The agreement intends to create a single continental market for goods and services, as well as a customs union with free movement of capital and people in the future. AfCFTA creates the largest free trade area in the world measured by the number of countries participating.

The pact connects 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined GDP valued at US$3.4 trillion.

The World Bank report AfCFTA: Economic and Distributional Effects, issued earlier this year, notes that AfCFTA will significantly boost African trade, particularly intraregional trade in manufacturing. The volume of total exports could increase by almost 29% by 2035 relative to the baseline. Intracontinental exports would increase by more than 81%, while exports to non-African countries would rise by 19%. Implementing the AfCFTA will help lift millions of Africans out of poverty, spur wage increases and grow the economy of the continent by up to 3%.

Regional integration is paramount for Africa, where 40% of the population and one-third of the economies are trapped in landlocked countries.  

The benefits that SA — and the rest of the African continent could derive from the successful implementation of the AfCFTA are numerous and far-reaching: increased trade, poverty alleviation, job opportunities, and greater economic inclusion. In essence it offers an unprecedented, desperately needed, incomparable opportunity for the continent to become an economic force. This will, however, only be achieved if there are efficient supporting services that allow African traders to take advantage of the preferential market access. Transport and logistics are arguably the most important factors in the short term.

Attacks against transporters derail growth in SA

In SA, transport and logistics accounts for 11% of the country’s GDP — a staggering R480bn. About 50% of the SA economy is made up of goods, with logistics a service that relates to the transport, storage and distribution of these goods.

More than 80% of goods in SA are transported by road. Over the festive and holiday season, the volumes of goods transported reaches its peak, as transport companies ensure that goods are delivered on time to consumers. With companies trying to recover from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on business and trade, the unimpeded, free flow of goods within SA and to and from African countries has become crucial.

The unprovoked, unlawful and violent attacks against transporters in SA are, however, continuing. According to recent media reports, there were 84 attacks in November alone, and 35 trucks were burnt. Billions of rand of precious cargo have been destroyed. In one day in November, nine trucks were set alight on the N3 highway — but not before the drivers had been attacked and their cargo looted.

This is pure anarchy, economic sabotage and a threat to national security.

This cannot continue. It is threatening the country’s future and destroying lives, companies, employment opportunities, economic activity, goods, vehicles, facilities, roads and foreign investment to move goods through SA into Africa. It will have far-reaching, devastating consequences.

The costs of these actions are not just borne by the transport industry but by all consumers who could face increased prices for goods in the future.

The government needs to take action

A resolution of the problem needs to become an urgent priority for the government. It needs to take urgent action to protect its citizens and ensure their constitutional rights of freedom of movement and freedom to do business.

Membership-based industry organisations have worked tirelessly through various industry structures, met on numerous occasions with relevant members, been involved in the ministerial task team created to deal with the problem, and forwarded proposals on how to resolve the crisis to the government. However, the measures required by the government agencies have either not been taken or addressed urgently enough.

Action is needed. Now. If not, the whole of Africa will suffer the ramifications for decades to come.