Ina Opperman
Business Journalist
4 minute read
24 Nov 2020
4:24 pm

Burning trucks is ‘economic sabotage’, says economist

Ina Opperman

The new modus operandi is to throw petrol bombs from bridges onto trucks, as most of the burning trucks are found near bridges.

Picture for illustration. A burning truck during a protest by residents of Tokyo informal settlement on Lower Boksburg road in Germiston, 15 September 2020. Picture: Neil McCartney

It was not only the immediate loss of a truck that should be concerning, but also the chain reaction it set off.

Insurance will skyrocket and drivers will start to demand danger pay in an economy that is already in deep trouble.

This was the warning of economist Mike Schussler, who said he also doubted whether government had the political capital to take on the problem. He often worked with the transport industry and talked to all the stakeholders on a regular basis.

According to the All Truck Drivers Forum and Allied South Africa (ATDFASA), this was a national shutdown in protest against the employment of foreign national drivers in the local trucking industry.

National shutdown

ATDFASA said truck owners preferred foreign drivers because they did not want to comply with labour laws and the main collective agreement of the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry (NBCRFLI) because foreign drivers were cheap labour, worked long hours and did not complain.

Schussler did not agree.

The pamphlet that was distributed on social media, promoting the shutdown this week.

READ MORE: WATCH: Two more trucks set alight in KZN

“It is a ruse or ploy for people who try to create jobs for others and themselves. They scare off truck drivers and then offer their jobs to others who have to pay them for the jobs. The NBCRFLI already got its lawyers to write to them.”

The lawyer’s letter referred to the notice distributed on social media. According to the letter, it was not clear from the notice who the authors were.

The lawyers asked if the same letter had been distributed by the South African National Cargo Transport Drivers Association (SANCATDRA), or anyone acting on its behalf.

Therefore the lawyers have been instructed to demand SANCATDRA’s written undertaking that it, its members, office bearers and/or supporters would not organise, encourage or participate in the “shutdown” referred to in the pamphlet.

SANCATDRA was also instructed to cease and desist from:

  • physically or otherwise preventing, obstructing and/or interfering in the normal operations of commercial trucks,
  • assaulting, abusing, harassing, threatening and/or intimidating commercial truck operators
  • damaging, stoning, burning and destroying the trucks and/or other property of commercial truck operators, their clients and/or employees
  • publishing, publicising or disseminating material through social media or any other platform that has the potential of inciting violence against commercial truck operators, their assets, customers and/or employees.

The NBCRFLI also demanded that if SANCATDRA denied being behind or part of the envisaged shutdown, it would immediately publish a statement on its social media platforms, clearly distancing itself from the call for the envisaged shutdown and the associated incitement of violence against commercial truck operators, their assets, clients and/or employees.

READ MORE: Case of murder opened after driver killed, more trucks torched (video)

If the request was ignored, the NBCRFLI would launch urgent court proceedings against SANCATDRA.

Unemployment and criminality

Schussler did not believe the story about foreign national drivers, because the NBCRFLI had 300 inspectors who could check if foreign national drivers were paid less. This argument did not make sense in any way as South African drivers were the ones who were often killed, he said. He added that it was just plain unemployment and criminality that lead to this.

According to Schussler, this was a broad front against the industry, made up of people who were not part of the industry at all.

“And when you want to engage them, the leadership has always changed and nothing is registered.”

It seems that the perpetrators were from hostels and were also involved in taxi and political violence, he said.

There did not seem to be a pattern to the burning of trucks, with Schussler saying trucks were chosen randomly. One truck that was set on fire recently was carrying potatoes, while another carrying coal was burnt in the main street of Ermelo.

Sabotage

Schussler called this economic sabotage and pointed out that Gauteng’s economy depended on trucks, with more than 90% of goods entering the province via road freight.

“If this continues, factories will close and we will go hungry in the end.”

The fact that South Africa did not have waterways to use for transport like Europe, and that the rail transport system was hampered, complicated matters further and did not offer alternative choices of transport.

“This started about two years ago and now it is happening again and more often. We have to nip it in the bud. We have to make policing work and catch the perpetrators and lock them up. It is not feasible to accompany every truck or drive in convoy,” he said.

“How do we expect growth in Africa if we let this happen?” he asked.

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