In one of the most violent nights for South Africa’s road transport sector since arson attacks became the method for xenophobic labour activism a few years ago, 10 trucks were set alight on the R103 and N3 close to the R23 interchange north of Heidelberg.
Reports sent through to the Transit Assistance Group (Transist) warned transporters to avoid the area at all costs.
Accounts of exactly how many trucks were burned vary but a Transist spokesperson (*) said they had heard of seven on the N3 and three on the R103.
The spokesperson added that it seemed as many 20 trucks could’ve been firebombed.
The attacks, reportedly sparked by the All Truck Driver Foundation (ATDF), a vigilante group opposed to foreign national truck driversworking in South Africa’s transport sector, mark the single biggest attack on the country’s main supply route between Gauteng and the Port of Durban.
The ATDF has since denied that they were involved in last night’s brutal chaos.
However, recently they threatened to embark on activism against the road freight sector, labour action that had been set aside for the new week.
“It’s seems deliberate,” the Transist spokesperson said.
“It looks like the industry’s attention was diverted away from what they were planning for last night. It’s the biggest assault of its kind in our country. The way it was executed, concentrated in one area, also supports the notion that it was carefully orchestrated.”
Transist said the attacks had started happening around 10pm when a rig was stopped by cars blockading the highway.
The truck was subsequently parked across the highway to stop oncoming traffic, after which the arsonists systematically proceeded to set more trucks alight.
One transporter said police had arrived on the scene and had been forced to drive through veld in pursuit of the arsonists, but soon found themselves shot at by the assailants.
In reports coming through from elsewhere in the country, video content was seen of at least two trucks coming under fire from uprising residents somewhere in the Eastern Cape.
The trucks can be seen stopping in front of people on the road until one of the rigs slowly pulls away while rocks thrown by the unruly crowd bounce off its cabin and trailer.
In the meantime transporters are reeling from last night’s viciousness, asking questions why government is not taking much stronger action against truck torching.
Questions are also being asked about how it’s possible that no one was injured in the attacks.
Exact details though are still coming through.
The Road Freight Association (RFA) has since said they will direct an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, a letter they undertook to share with Freight News but which has not yet transpired.
Its CEO, Gavin Kelly, clearly stressed and upset by last night’s events, confirmed that the attacks had been perpetrated out of opposition to South African transporters accused of employing non citizens instead of local drivers.
“Again, for the umpteenth time, the road freight companies find themselves being attacked by forces under the pretext of foreign nationals taking jobs away from citizens.
“The result is damaged and totally destroyed lives, companies, employment opportunities, economic activity, goods, vehicles, facilities, roads and foreign investment to move goods through South Africa into Africa.”
Kelly added that the RFA had tried to address truck burning by following the necessary government channels, including a ministerial task team that was set up to look into concerns raised by the ATDF.
“Unfortunately, there has been no decisive action by the government to address this.”
(*) For the sake of personal safety, the name of this official is withheld.
WATCH: Trucks come under fire from unruly residents in the Eastern Cape in one of the last 24 hours’ incidents of violence against road hauliers on South African roads.