Violent disruption of South Africa’s road freight sector, which has involved up to 30 trucks being firebombed since last Thursday night, continued this morning (23 November) with civil unrest, incitement and acts of intimidation reported from several areas.
In Durban black smoke from burning tyres plumed into the air as a crowd of stick-wielding men blocked off Bayhead and Langeberg Roads, preventing all traffic from entering or leaving the port precinct.
However, just after 8am the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta) heard from Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) that the area had been cleared.
This came after a TPT official from Pier one and two, Faith Chetty, informed industry that the protesters had been escorted out of Bayhead Road.
“Traffic is now flowing in both directions.”
Chetty’s email is one of the few confirmed communiques that the local transport sector has received from the public sector – which Freight News knows about – since vigilante group, the All Truck Drivers’ Foundation (ATDF), embarked on a fiery rampage last week.
Thursday’s attacks on trucks from about 10pm onwards, mainly along the N3 north of Heidelberg, but more specifically on the R103, R23 and R550, were followed up on Saturday night with several arson attacks on the R59.
Along with the nine confirmed reports of trucks being set alight on Thursday, another four trucks were reportedly firebombed in the vicinity of Sasolburg.
“Confirmed reports indicate that up 15 trucks were set alight,” Fesarta chief executive Mike Fitzmaurice said.
However, other sources said arsonists had attacked as many as 20 trucks at four different locations across Gauteng.
This morning Fitzmaurice added that, “from what we know, about 30 trucks have been set on fire or shot at so far”.
Initial denial by the ATDF that they are involved in the attacks on the transport industry has since been refuted by visual footage showing a car draped in ATDF insignia with a man holding a loud hailer and making threatening remarks.
The footage in question was reported last night at the Marian Hill Toll Plaza on the N3 where northbound traffic was forced to turn around at the toll gate itself.
According to a translator speaking Zulu, the man in the video had warned of activism to come, appealing to “comrades” to be ready because of what could happen in the following days.
Apart from this morning’s unrest outside the Port of Durban, Fesarta also saw evidence of a tipper truck with a trailer blockading the R577 at the Boomplaas Road turnoff near Enkeldoorn Primary School.
A private security company took action and arrested one individual in a show of law-enforcing strength that many transporters say has yet to be seen from the SA Police Service.
The rabble rouser from Marian Hill, for example, can be identified from the video footage that has been circulated, but apparently no action has been taken against him or any ATDF representative for threatening and terrorising transporters and their employees.
In addition to calls from industry that immediate action be taken by government considering the threat that the attacks pose to South Africa’s interior supply chain concerns, various industry representatives are beginning to ask whether the ATDF’s vigilantism is necessarily in opposition to foreign nationals working in the local transport industry.
“I don’t think this is just labour related,” Fitzmaurice said.
“It seems to be bigger than that. If you think of the number of jobs that foreign nationals occupy compared to the number of jobs available in this country as drivers, it’s minimal – 2-3%.”
His sentiments are shared by other commentators from the industry, some of whom believe that there’s a determined agenda at play to violently undermine South Africa’s economy.
The fact that police can often be seen standing around, effectively doing nothing, while protesters mill around without face masks, not exercising social distancing, and participating in illegal civil action, supports the fears of many transporters that they have been abandoned by law authorities.
“It seems to me that the ATDF can do as they please without anything being done about it,” Fitzmaurice said.
His comments come amid deafening silence from the Department of Transport, while the very sector over which Minister Fikile Mbalula is supposed to hold sway, is targeted by forces that may very well have an insurrectionist agenda.
Some say that since the firebombing of trucks in South Africa started in 2018, the focus has shifted away from xenophobia to politically motivated unrest that the ANC government is unwilling to address.
If the attacks are indeed labour related and aimed at transporters breaking the law by employing foreign nationals illegally working in South Africa, the question remains why the departments of labour, home affairs and even trade and industry have not yet responded to the threat against South Africa’s transport sector.
WATCH: Videos from this morning’s civil unrest outside the Port of Durban and last night’s disruption of northbound traffic at Marian Hill Toll Plaza.