Durban – The business sector, especially those providing road freight services, firmly believed Friday’s blockage of the N3 in Van Reenen, which cost the logistics industry nearly R13 million, could have been avoided.
They questioned why the various security agencies did not act decisively, ahead of time, and avert the impasse on the N3, as information that disgruntled drivers were planning a blockade had been swirling about days before.
While traffic ground to a halt on one of the country’s main economic arterial routes, Police Minister Bheki Cele was busy answering for his ground forces limp efforts during the violence and rioting that erupted in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg, in July.
It was alleged that this latest snarl-up was instigated by truck drivers and others, who were opposed to foreign drivers working for South African logistics companies.
By yesterday, police confirmed that 12 people had been arrested in connection with the blockade that stretched nearly 10km on both carriageways of N3 in Van Reenen.
But Yega Govender, chairman of Positive Freight Solutions (PFS), an association comprising more than 200 logistics companies, called for the instigators to be charged with “treason”, as it had been promised previously by heads of government.
The PFS along with other associations and stakeholders in the road freight industry are part of a “ministerial task-team” which includes heads from the transport, labour, home affairs and security departments.
The task team regularly discusses some of the volatile issues that have plagued the industry in recent times, including the looting and torching of trucks.
Govender was disappointed that the N3 blockade happened despite the respective ministers and other heads acknowledging at task team meetings that “economic sabotage” of the industry will be tolerated no longer.
Govender pointed out that Cele had recently said such conduct must be considered “treason”.
“At our last national meeting in August, we came to a conclusion that acts of sabotage would no longer be accepted and immediate action would be taken.
“There was a lot of intelligence flying about the looming blockade. The national task team was informed, national intelligence was informed, everybody knew it was coming, but nobody did anything.”
Govender said criminals were bringing the economy to its knees and politicians were overlooking it.
“We haven’t even received our insurance claims from the July violence, now we have to endure this,” said Govender, who had eight vehicles caught-up in Fridays traffic that began in the early hours and ended at 9pm.
He claimed representatives of truck drivers had a hold on politicians, which caused them to look the other way.
Siyabonga Dlamini, chairman of the All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF) said they were not pleased with how drivers acted, but hoped their issues would be soon resolved.
In an interview with the Independent on Saturday, Gavin Kelly, chief executive of the Road Freight Association, said the transport and logistics industry was being held captive by those “who prefer to work outside of the law”.
Kelly said law abiding transporters were being subjected to this and the police needed to take action and “not stand on the sideline and monitor”.
Minister Cele’s office diverted questions to the SAPS KZN’s spokesperson, Brigadier Jay Naicker, who said: “Twelve people were arrested for contravention of the Road Traffic Act and detained at the Ladysmith police station. They will appear in court soon.”
Amith Singh, a truck owner, said one of his vehicles transporting alcohol from Durban to Johannesburg, was among those looted.
“Alcohol, mostly expensive brandy, worth around R2.5m was grabbed.”
But Singh believed the looting lay squarely at the hands of drivers because there were no residential areas nearby.
Singh said while there was minimal damage to his vehicle, he was frustrated with the goings-on in the industry in recent years and, he would have pulled out had he not been invested heavily in logistics.
Mayor Kazingizi, a Zimbabwean truck driver, who works for a KZN trucking company, said it might be time for the South African government to revisit work permits laws for foreigners.
“The ill-treatment of foreign drivers and being accused of taking away opportunities for locals is unjust and must be put to bed once and for all.
“The government must stop giving permits to all foreign drivers if they believe it would protect their own citizens,” Kazingi said.
Kenneth Drummond, a local trucking company owner, who also has a base in Zimbabwe, said truck-related protests in South Africa were never ending and the reasons for violent reactions and destruction kept changing each time.
He believed it was unfair to say it only centred around job loss issues.
“Zimbabwean truck drivers prefer being denied work permits that place their lives at risk. It must be noted that there are numerous South African nationals employed on Zimbabwean soil.”
Therefore, these issues must be handled in an appropriate way, he suggested.
Palesa Phili, chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the recurring blockades of the N3 was a cause for concern.
“The KZN economy is extremely reliant on the N3 corridor. Hence, such behaviour cannot become a norm of addressing social issues in South Africa.”
Phili said that according to eThekwini Municipality Durban EDGE, a platform providing economic intelligence and insight to economic decision makers, it was estimated that whenever the logistics sector faced impediments it loses R13,7 million a day.