Truck drivers block the N1 near Kraaifontein in Cape Town over employment of foreign nationals​. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES
Truck drivers block the N1 near Kraaifontein in Cape Town over employment of foreign nationals​. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

About 1,500 truck drivers abandoned their trucks across the country on Tuesday to protest against the employment of foreign drivers in the road freight and logistics industry.

This could have a negative impact on the economy as local, cross-border trucking operations are allowed during the lockdown to deliver essential goods.

There has been long-standing tension between foreign and SA truck drivers, with the latter accusing the former of “stealing their jobs”.

Last year, scores of foreign national truck drivers were attacked and their trucks torched on the busy N3 and N2 roads. The violence led to an interministerial delegation meeting truck owners and drivers in June 2019. No resolution has been found between the aggrieved parties.

At the time, police minister Bheki Cele said the attacks constituted economic sabotage and would not be tolerated. The attacks have cost the economy about R1.2bn and claimed more than 200 lives.

On Tuesday, Truckers Association of SA president Mary Phadi told Business Day that about 1,500 truck drivers had participated in the national shutdown.

“Trucks are parked [because drivers] claim that employers employ foreigners and pay them lower wages. They feel sidelined.  The whole country is at a standstill,” said Phadi.

“We parked [the trucks on Monday] night. There is a court interdict against them and our understanding is that the strike was only for [Monday].”

SA Transport and Allied Workers Union deputy general secretary Anele Kiet said while the Cosatu-affiliated union was not part of the shutdown, it has been “part of discussions” with transport minister Fikile Mbalula to pave a way forward on the impasse.

The #WeStandWithSATruckDrivers was trending on Twitter, with one participant posting that driving a truck has never been a scarce skill, while others called for SA truck drivers to be prioritised.

The All Truck Drivers Federation has distanced itself from the shutdown, saying while it was aware of the protest action it had nothing to do with it.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints), which comprises various government departments in the security cluster, said it has issued directives to law enforcement agencies in all provinces to ensure the shutdown is “policed efficiently”.

“There will be zero tolerance [for] any intimidation against truck drivers as well as other road users. Law enforcement will ensure that there are no criminal activities and that the lives of law abiding citizens are not put in danger,” the NatJoints stated.

The security structure said  police needed to deal decisively with groups involved in the shutdown as the country  cannot tolerate further disruptions to the economy after the lockdown.

The NatJoints reminded protesters that SA is still under the state of disaster and the public has to abide by the Disaster Management Regulations which are governing the state of disaster. “One of which prohibits gatherings other than a funeral, church service and gathering for work-related purposes”.

Denis Juru, president of the International Cross-Border Traders Association (ICTA), did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During the height of the violence in the industry in 2019, ICTA threatened to prevent SA-registered trucks and buses from leaving the country if attacks against foreign drivers continued unabated.

Mbalula's spokesperson Ayanda Allie-Paine did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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