/ 12 July 2023

Police identify 12 suspects for truck torchings, Cele says

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Trucks on fire on the N2 last week. (Supplied)

Police have identified 12 people linked to the torching of 21 trucks along the country’s national freeways, including the N3, N2 and N4 over the past week, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Wednesday.

He told journalists that the provincial police commissioners of KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga, led by national commissioner General Fannie Masemola, had held a high level meeting on the arson attacks, which began on the second anniversary of similar torchings in July 2021. 

The truck burnings two years ago were soon followed by rioting and vandalism in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.

But, said Cele, while this week marked two years since the July 2021 civil unrest that cost the country R50 billion in damages and claimed 354 lives, there was currently “no evidence before us to suggest that the recent target on trucks are in any way related or linked to the July insurrection”.

“I wish to take this opportunity to allay any fears that what transpired in July 2021 will repeat itself,” he said.

The police minister said the police were on high alert and working around the clock to prevent further attacks on the country’s transport corridors.

“The plan of action from the police is already underway. No matter the motive, the country’s law enforcement remains on high alert and is hard at work at preventing more attacks but also finding these individuals or gangs of thugs’ hell bent on causing havoc on our roads,” Cele said.

He said the South African Police Service had heightened police visibility and was “leaving nothing to chance in all provinces”.


“All major routes have been secured and regular patrols are being conducted along identified high-risk routes,” the police minister said. Attacks on trucks had been reported in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga and police had identified a dozen suspects, he added.

“Whether it is economic sabotage, labour or service delivery related disputes, police are closing in on those who choose to use violence and intimidation for whatever motive. Intelligence suggests that attacks on trucks may be business related and we know that these are not just random acts of criminality,” Cele said.

He said evidence pointed to “organised, coordinated and sophisticated operations that seek to undermine and sabotage the state”.

Cele outlined the attacks that have taken place since Sunday, 9 July, which started with the torching of trucks on Van Reenen’s Pass.

“One truck driver refused to stop when accosted by the group of armed men who shot at the truck. The driver managed to drive away unharmed. This was the first reported incident of attacks on freight trucks in the country.”

A truck was burnt on the N11 in Engogo, 25km north of Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal. Two more trucks were set alight on the N2 in Empangeni, when armed men attacked and robbed the truck drivers. Both attacks took place on Monday.

“KZN police are investigating a case of armed robbery, malicious damage to property and attempted murder. Detectives assigned to the cases are closely following up on leads and continue to gather and study all evidence at their disposal,” Cele said.

He said nine trucks were torched in Mpumalanga, with the latest incident taking place in the early hours of Wednesday between Ermelo and Sheepmore, where four trucks were attacked and set alight. 

Police were also following up “strong leads” after the torching of five trucks on Sunday evening on the N4 near Waterval Boven.

Cele said police investigations of an incident, where six armed men attacked and burned three trucks heading to a chrome mine along the R577 between Lydenburg and Sekhukhune in Limpopo, pointed to “an ongoing labour dispute and service delivery issues” in the mining belt.

“Police in that province are investigating three cases of malicious damage to property and robbery and are expecting to make arrests soon,” he said.

Trucks in the Free State and Gauteng had not been the target of attacks over the past week.

“In the Free State, on Monday, a truck experienced mechanical failure and caught fire. The driver escaped unharmed. A second incident, a truck capsized and burst into flames. The driver of that vehicle is recovering in hospital,” Cele said.

He said there had been “incorrect” media reports of trucks being torched in Gauteng, but these trucks had been involved in unrelated, separate accidents.

“One truck carrying flammable cargo had a burst tyre and capsized and burst into flames while driving on the R59. In the second incident, a truck driver lost control and the overturned trailer caught fire on the N12,” Cele said, adding that both truck drivers escaped unharmed.

Regarding the July 2021 violence and looting, Cele said 67 people have been arrested in 11 cases.

“These cases are before the courts while investigations continue. Police are investigating 107 cases in KZN related to the torching of trucks since 2018,” Cele said.

The government’s security cluster was working in unison and was “in a better state to respond to any eventuality”, he said. “Police are working with agility and are working closely together to bring a stop to these organised crimes and make arrests. We appeal to road users and motorists and truck drivers to report suspicious people and activities to the police.”