Trucking protests have re-emerged ahead of the local government elections, with some SA drivers blocking part of the N3 national road in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday while a similar incident occurred at the weekend in the Eastern Cape.
The local drivers were yet again voicing their objections against the employment of foreign truck drivers in the freight industry.
According to the N3 Toll Concession (N3TC), truck drivers were obstructing the N3 toll route in both directions near Montrose, diverting all Johannesburg bound traffic at Bergville.
A similar protest took place near the Eastern Cape town of Middelburg on Sunday, affecting traffic and trucks transporting manganese destined for international markets from Kuruman in the Northern Cape to the harbour at Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth).
Economist Mike Schüssler, who has voiced concerns before about the impact such truck driver protests on the economy, told Moneyweb on Wednesday that “South Africa cannot afford to further have its economic arteries blocked”.
Along with the country’s current plight around electricity outages, Schüssler said the trucking protests are “just adding costs and pain to the SA economy at a moment in time that we cannot afford it”.
He stressed that the protest actions are “further hammering” the freight industry, as multiple trucks were set alight during the July unrest.
Just last week Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman urged government to relocate the Mooi River toll plaza on the N3, which connects Durban to the economic hub of Johannesburg, bemoaning the impact of the July unrest on supply chains.
In their response to the re-emergence of truck protests, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said during a media briefing on Wednesday that they are mindful of the economic impact of any disruption to the supply chains and freight logistics in the country.
They convened the briefing after the Road Freight Association called on the ministers of police and transport to mobilise their teams in order to ensure public roads remain open and free for use for all citizens, including the vehicles operated by freight and logistics companies.
“We have made a firm commitment to address these matters in a manner that ensures sustainability of our interventions. Some of these interventions may require a longer runway as these may require legislative amendments,” Mbalula said.
“Our National Road Traffic Act requires foreign operators to make use of an operator permit/card. The rationale for such a provision is to enable government to manage situations where an operator does not follow the relevant laws in South Africa,” he said.
Mbalula pointed out that these permits will have a one-year validity period and that non-compliance with relevant laws will result in the deregistration of the operator in question.
“The amendments to the regulations are now before Parliament for comment as required by law, and we anticipate publishing amended regulations by the end of November 2021,” he added.
Meanwhile, Nxesi claimed during the briefing that the freight industry could be employing foreign nationals as most agree to work under exploitative conditions due to desperation.
He said this practice by employers promotes illegal immigration into the country as foreign nationals flee their countries to seek better opportunities in SA.
A member of the All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF), an entity representing local truck drivers, told local KwaZulu-Natal newspaper The Witness that they have had enough of freight companies employing foreign nationals.
“We are not backing down on our struggle. We have been patient for far too long. The ministers are playing with us. We can’t be hungry in our own country during the pandemic while these people are having it easy,” the ATDF member is quoted in the newspaper.
Schüssler, however, said that ATDF is merely “pushing their luck in a saying foreign truck drivers must leave”.
“Many are here legally, so it is unfair to expect those people who’ve been here a long time and were invited by government to not work here all of a sudden,” he said.
Schüssler noted that trucking by its very nature is a foreign and international industry and it’s going to employ a lot of foreign people in either SA, Zimbabwe, Botswana or Mozambique.
Palesa Mofokeng is a Moneyweb intern.