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Police adopt 'zero-tolerance' approach to truck attacks

07 July 2020 - 17:57 By Orrin Singh, Aron Hyman and Esa Alexander

The police will have "zero tolerance" towards any intimidation of truck drivers and other road users during the national truck shutdown.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, the labour department and police said during a sitting between the National Joint Operational Structure (NatJoints), consisting of various government departments in the security cluster, directives were given to law enforcement to ensure that the planned shutdown was policed efficiently. 

On Tuesday, dozens of truck drivers gathered in City Deep in Johannesburg as part of a nationwide strike against the employment of foreign drivers. 

There were also reports of trucks being used to blockade parts of roads in Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal. Truck drivers said they were “hijacked” on Cape Town’s roads.

"The planned shutdown was preceded by sporadic attacks on trucks on various national roads across all provinces and social media messages calling for the disruption of traffic and attacks on local trucks driven by foreign nationals in the face of high unemployment locally," read the statement.

Last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa formed a task team consisting of the ministers of home affairs, employment and labour, police and transport. 

A virtual meeting was held on Tuesday between these ministers, as well as independent trucking business representatives and the National Truck Drivers Foundation (NTDF). The meeting was convened by the KwaZulu-Natal premier’s office.

Outcomes of the meeting included: 

  • progress was detailed in the action plans of both the national and the KZN provincial task teams that were set up last year;
  • officials were urged to continue to resolve all outstanding matters and to process these reports within the NatJoints structures;
  • independent trucking industry representatives' concerns were heard and urged to work closely with law enforcement agencies;
  • dismay was expressed at the actions of splinter groupings to involve themselves in sporadic violence against trucks on national roads, social media threats and the calls for shutdown;
  • the police were instructed to deal decisively with those involved as SA cannot tolerate further disruptions to the economy after the lockdown;
  • independent trucking employer representatives and former workers' representatives were urged to form legitimate organisations that are accountable, to register accordingly and join formal structures such as the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry (NBCRFLI); and
  • growing public concerns were acknowledged around the continued presence of foreign nationals in the trucking, security, agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors amid the high unemployment rate in the country.

The government condemned the violence in the sector and ensured that it would fast-track all labour and emigration policies.

"The [departments of] employment and labour and home affairs were urged to fast-track the international immigration and labour migration management policy and legal matters, to escalate these matters to cabinet. We will also address some of these matters with our counterparts within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union," it said.

The task team called on workers in the road freight industry to air their grievances and stage protests within the confines of the law, as is their right.

"Protesters are also reminded that the country is still under the state of disaster and the public has to abide by the disaster management regulations which are governing the state of disaster - one of which prohibits gatherings other than a funeral, church service and gathering for work-related purposes."

On Tuesday afternoon, the freight truck that driver Casper Smit spends his working days and nights in was parked across the N1 highway towards Cape Town. He said he was forced out of his vehicle at noon after he was approached by a mob of about 30 people.

“I was busy waiting for a freight with my truck and they came here from the highway’s side. I think they are striking, I don’t know. They took me out of the lorry and took my keys and drove the lorry across the highway just across the [Engen] Winelands 1 Stop,” he said.

“They asked whether I heard of the strike today, and I said yes. They said they want my lorry and they took it. It had to be lorry drivers because they know how to drive the lorry.”

He said they stole the truck’s cellphone and his wallet before breaking the key off in the ignition.

Riot police helped to disperse protesters along the N1 highway.

City of Cape Town traffic services spokesperson Maxine Jordaan said there also reports of multiple trucks across the N7 highway between Atlantis and Morningstar.

Former Western Cape ANC elections head and premier Ebrahim Rasool condemned the attacks as well as calls for attacks on foreign nationals.

“We have seen this movie all too often before - most recently in September 2019, when attacks against other Africans were widespread. What was different then was that Africa’s patience had run dry with SA,” said Rasool.

“For the first time, we saw SA missions targeted and SA businesses under threat. Even now, some foreign nationals are threatening retaliation should any attacks materialise. This is a terrible scenario if the threats and counter threats are to materialise.”

Rasool called for law enforcement agencies to “act against those who engage in such hate speech and threaten such conflict and lawlessness”.

Blocking the other lanes of the highway next to Smit’s truck was Zimbabwean driver Tendarai Shazinga’s truck, which was also hijacked from him.