Bread is not a meal for a working man: Truckers on hunger and job fears
Truck drivers tell of tough times on the road during coronavirus lockdown
Truck drivers who spend hours on the road, dependent on getting hot meals at their rest stops nestled in petrol stations along their routes, have told TimesLIVE of the horrible weeks they have had on the road, unable to get proper food.
This as the Covid-19 lockdown regulations, in place since March 27, ordered all restaurants, even those operating from petrol stations along the highways, be non-operational during the lockdown.
Simon Potelwa, who works for a freight logistics company, has for years purchased hot meals on the road along the Kusile Power Station near Witbank from street vendors, selling different kinds of hot meals.
The vendors have had to shut down during the lockdown, forcing him to change his diet.
“I now eat bread and milk while I am on the road. There’s nothing else,” Potelwa said.
“I look forward to going home now because that is the only place I can get decent food,” he said, adding that he sometimes spends three days away from home.
Adding to his frustration was the inability to buy cigarettes on the road, which Potelwa said had been a welcome comfort during the rest stop.
“So now imagine, you are hungry and you can’t even relieve stress by smoking,” he said.
Potelwa said at the beginning of the lockdown, he had still been able to purchase cigarettes at tuckshops in his area but bit by bit, shops were running out and hopping from one shop to another, did not always yield results.
Pfunzo Makhera is a truck driver from Limpopo who has just returned to work. Ironically, he delivers food products for restaurants as far as Musina. He said life under lockdown is tough for drivers.
The 46-year-old man said while out on the road, he had to resort to eating soft food since there was no prepared food in the stores.
“It is difficult especially as a Venda man who is used to eating hot food like pap. I cannot cook my own food and travel with it because it will get spoiled on the road. Now we just have to live on Mageu and some bread, which is not enough for me as a man. So this means I must eat constantly as bread is not sufficient,” he said.
Makhera is anxious about job security.
“Work has been reduced. They might even retrench anytime. [Companies employing] drivers travelling to Musina have reduced [operations], even our salaries. It’s now difficult. The coronavirus has affected us in a bad way,” Makhera said.
Although the company he works for provides workers with protective gears, he still fears for his life every day he reports to work.
“You can’t see the person who has it, so it’s scary. [But] we have masks and things to protect ourselves with. We also have to sanitise the truck before we get inside and when we deliver we can’t share our pens with the customers,” he said.
Another driver, Kenneth Setati delivers frozen and chilled foods in the Limpopo province. He also said food was a major challenge while on the road.
“There are no prepared foods in the stores, so often we have to go without eating or we just eat bread.
“When your stomach is empty, it is difficult for your mind to function. Many public toilets, which were previously open, are also now closed.”
The father of two who is on the road five days a week said he was worried about infecting his family with the virus.
“When I get home, I am stressed. I worry about whether I am carrying coronavirus. I tell my family not to hug me anymore, not until coronavirus is dead. This upsets my children, they are not used to this. I try my best to explain to them that, in time, this will pass and we will be able to touch each other and hug again,” he said.
Meanwhile, international humanitarian organisation, Ashraful Aid, has sympathised with one of the biggest challenges that the long distance drivers are battling with – decent meals.
The organisation has set up a food distribution station at the City Deep truck stop in Johannesburg where on some days they have handed out warm and freshly prepared food to truckers, for free.
They also set up another food station at a petrol station near the Vaal where on various days, hundreds of drivers could get meals.
Their efforts were documented on the SA Long-Distance Truckers group on Facebook, where some trucking company owners had also expressed their concern about their employees inability to get meals whilst on the road. The employers and other Samaritans had been able to make the food distribution possible by donating funds to Ashraful Aid.
A truck company representative also prepared food parcels and distributed them to truckers on The Van Reenens Pass. He took to the #I'mStaying Facebook group, where people post their random acts of kindness, to share his experience.
"The gratitude and smiles of thanksgiving from the drivers was a sure sign that our drivers do need our assistance through this terrible epidemic that we are facing," said Lebohang Rahlao.