Dozens of truck drivers in SA have died in attacks against foreigners since March 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday, calling for stronger protection of foreign workers.

The report was released after a recent spate of xenophobic violence fueled by economic decline and record unemployment in Africa’s second largest economy.

Groups of SA truck drivers allegedly assaulted foreign drivers with stones, knives, guns and petrol bombs, killing more than 200 and forcing hundreds out of their jobs, said the rights group.

An SA truck owners’ association quoted by the HRW reported 75 such incidents since March this year, 15 of which were independently confirmed by the watchdog. They include the deadly stabbing of a Zimbabwean driver and a petrol bomb attack on another Zimbabwean national in Durban, where a spate of violence against foreigners displaced hundreds earlier this year.

HRW Southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga called on the SA government to “bring perpetrators to justice”.

“The SA authorities are neither protecting foreign truck drivers against violence nor conducting effective investigations into those credibly implicated in attacks,” Mavhinga said.

Labour ministry spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi told AFP that his department was not aware of the report, but the government had appointed an inter-ministerial committee to look into the issue and held several meetings with employers and truck drivers in Durban.

“It is not true to say [the] government is not doing anything,” said Buthelezi. “Whether it is enough, we can only judge later.”

Economic migrants 

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula said after an inter-ministerial meeting in June that the crisis was caused by an “oversupply of foreign drivers in the industry”, many of whom are undocumented.

SA is a major destination for economic migrants from the Southern Africa region, with many moving from neighbouring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in search for work.

The latest population census in 2011 shows that numbers spiked in the previous decade, with nearly half of international migrants having moved to SA between 2005 and 2010. An unknown number of the migrants are undocumented.

Employers “prefer [foreign truck drivers] because they can work long hours at a much cheaper cost, so they tend to exploit them,” Buthelezi said.

An SA truck drivers association has called for a nationwide strike on September 2, according to HRW. Their announcement prompted the Zambian embassy in SA to warn their truck drivers not to travel to the country on the strike date “until security is guaranteed”.

It also advised Zambian drivers to park their trucks in “safe and secure designated places to avoid loss of life and property”. 

Immigrants bear much of the anger about chronic unemployment and limited economic gains made by black people. Violence erupts sporadically, targeting foreign-owned shops and migrants themselves.

Sixty-two people were killed in a wave of xenophobic violence in 2008, and at least seven in a renewed outburst in 2015.


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