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'National truck shutdown' looms over hiring of foreign drivers

06 July 2020 - 16:55 By Orrin Singh
Last year saw a wave of attacks on truck drivers in South Africa as calls for companies to employ locals rather than foreigners intensified.
Last year saw a wave of attacks on truck drivers in South Africa as calls for companies to employ locals rather than foreigners intensified.
Image: ER24

Tensions within the trucking industry have again flared up as rumours of a possible national shutdown began to surface on Monday. 

The industry has been marred by violence and vandalism as organisations, said to be representing the interests of South African truck drivers, demand that the government take action against the employment of foreigners.

According to Claudia Schoeman, MD of Hawkeye Trucker Assist, there were several instances of trucks being set alight on Sunday night.

“There were incidents reported on the N1, N3 and N7 also. Mostly on the N3 and N1 though.” 

Sipho Zungu of the All Truck Drivers Federation (ATDF) told TimesLIVE that he was aware of calls for a national shutdown, but he had “nothing to do with it”. 

“I have seen a statement circulating on Facebook. It was posted by a guy that I don't even know. I have never called for any shutdown. But it is understandable that the drivers are now fed up. We are asking for justice to be done. This has been going on for three years and the government has not responded to us since. They say they are making a task team, but there is nothing we have that we can give to the drivers,” he said. 

TimesLIVE was e-mailed a statement claiming that drivers would embark on a national shutdown on Tuesday. 

Ronias Tavenga, a Zimbabwean truck driver, was the victim of a petrol bombing in April 2019. The devastating burns have left Tavenga crippled. He is one of many who have been drastically affected by violence in the transportation sector.

“South African citizens together with Code 14 qualified truck divers will embark on a national shutdown on Tuesday July 7 2020, fighting against the employment of foreigners in most sectors in SA for a lower wage.

“In Eastern Cape alone, there are over 500 qualified truck drivers who are unemployed while the industry employs over 90% of foreign truck drivers. The citizens have received support from over 1,000 truck drivers nationally who will not drive any trucks from July 7 in solidarity with the unemployed.” 

SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) deputy general secretary Anele Kiet distanced the union from any sort of shutdown. 

“It has been our stance before and it is still our stance - all issues pertaining to workers in that industry have a platform to negotiate through the bargaining council. We are a member of the bargaining council and could never be the ones who would walk out of that particular structure to call for a shutdown.” 

Kiet had previously slammed the government for entering into talks with an “illegitimate association,” such as ATDF.  “As a union representing the majority of workers in the sector, we call upon the association that alleges to be representing truck drivers to register with the bargaining council so as to voice our concerns to a legitimate platform and by so doing embolden the fight against the capitalist agenda that seeks to divide workers.”

Last year the Sunday Times reported how the onslaught against companies employing foreign truck drivers had left dozens dead or injured and caused R1.2bn in damages to trucks and cargo, according to the Road Freight Association (RFA).

By the middle of 2019 police reported 74 trucks burnt and damaged in the violence. The N3 Toll Concession, a private company that manages the road from Heidelberg to Cedara, said 50 vehicles had been torched on the highway since April 2018.

Ministers of police, transport, labour and home affairs held a sitting with all the relevant stakeholders regarding the ongoing violence in June last year. 

Police minister Bheki Cele said violence within the sector amounted to deeds of “economic sabotage”.

However no resolution has been found between the aggrieved parties.