/ 5 September 2019

Violence exacts huge toll on lives and a R1bn loss in the freight sector

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union
The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) has distanced itself from ongoing strikes in the sector as well as the attacks on foreign truck drivers



Thirty-seven-year-old Charles Ntini was shot and killed while driving a truck on the N12 last month.

His lifeless body was found on the Harding road in Paddock, in southern KwaZulu-Natal in the early hours of the morning. Although the motive behind the killing is yet to be determined, it is believed that his death is in line with the ongoing violence against foreign truck drivers on the country’s roads.

Ntini was Zimbabwean, and is one of an estimated 213, mostly foreign, truck drivers who have been killed in these truck attacks since March last year.

The Road Freight Association puts the cost of the ongoing attacks on trucks at about R1.2-billion with 1 200 vehicles and cargo destroyed during this period.

On Tuesday, 20 people were arrested in KwaZulu-Natal in the latest round of violence in the freight industry.

The arrests came after a widely circulated WhatsApp message calling for a strike by South African truck drivers against the employment of foreign drivers.

So far no organisation has taken responsibility for the wave of violence.

A report released by Human Rights Watch last month showed that most perpetrators of the attacks against foreign truck drivers claimed affiliation to the drivers’ organisation, the All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF) — an allegation which the organisation has denied.

The leader of the foundation, Sipho Zungu, admits that his organisation has been at the forefront of calling for truck owners to refrain from employing foreign truck drivers “in order to protect South African jobs”.

But he denies that his organisation is behind the strikes that occurred this week: “Our organisation has never called for a strike and we have taken the correct steps by engaging with the truck owners and government regarding our grievances.”

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) has distanced itself from ongoing strikes in the sector as well as the attacks on foreign truck drivers.

“It’s really ridiculous that people would call a strike via social media and then threaten violence,” said the union’s spokesperson, Zanele Sabela.

“That is problematic to say that people who would be working would be hurt. When you are saying that everyone must stay away from work on Sunday and Monday and threaten that if they dare go to work then they will be hurt, then it’s really problematic.”

Earlier this week, Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, Police Minister Bheki Cele and Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi released a joint statement describing the ongoing violence in the sector as “economic sabotage” that threatens the economic viability of the Southern African Development Community.

There is also the human cost to consider. Hlulani Mokwena, a transport economist at North-West University, said: “We have to measure the value of lives lost when this type of protest action occurs, largely because if we are just going to have an estimate of the business cost then we are probably going to miss out on the value of lives lost and the long-term economic impact on households and families.

“This is basically a market failure and the labour input is responding to that in a way that is more expensive for smaller operators than the larger operators.”

Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian