“Only God will protect us and we hope we will come back alive.” This is a direct quote from a group of truck drivers that were found at Oshoek Border Gate yesterday afternoon preparing to cross to South Africa to deliver their load. According to information sourced from the truck drivers, approximately 80 drivers crossed to SA yesterday since morning. This is despite strong warnings from the Eswatini Road Freight Association Chairperson Sihlangu Nhlabatsi that all freight operators should avoid sending trucks to South Africa, especially with the looming national truck shutdown on Monday.
Same messages were trending on social media networks and in all the local media houses.
The drivers, though they refused to have their names disclosed, stated clearly that should anything happen to them their employers should shoulder the blame as they were forced to go to South Africa despite the threats.
“They have shown that they don’t care about us. They are only concerned about making money.
Even if they can burn down the trucks they are not worried because they are insured, they will get new ones,” one driver stated.
Another driver who crossed yesterday said he was going straight to Bloemfontein and Monday will find him still in South Africa. He stated that government should intervene as their lives are at stake here and there isn’t much they can do.
“Look in Zambia trucks have been stopped from going to South Africa until the truck shut down problem is sorted. Why is our government not doing the same, is it because we are perceived useless as truck drivers? If doctors or any other professionals in the country were in our situation do you think they would have allowed them to be exposed to such danger?”
A statement from the trucks association states that freight operators should ensure that their trucks are packed at a safe place on the day—and this could be on the Eswatini side of the border.
Furthermore, the statement asserts that freight operators should reschedule their trips in such a way that the vehicle is at least on the Eswatini side of the point of entry before September 1.
Meanwhile, Mpumalanga News reported this week that trucks entering Eswatini from Monday are expected to be stopped, after the nationwide disruption of truck traffic spilled into the Lowveld this past weekend, when at least 300 trucks were “confiscated” by the All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF).
ATDF prevented drivers of several Lowveld trucking companies from conducting their work last week Friday, and continued to do so until Monday morning. According to a flyer handed to truck drivers, ATDF is threatening further strike action from this coming Monday.
No reference is made of the strategic Lebombo Border Post between South Africa and Mozambique and ATDF was not available for comment.
This will make the eight ports of entry into Eswatini inaccessible: the Ngwenya, Matsamo, Mahamba, Lavumisa, Sicunusa, Mananga, Sandlane and Bulembu Border posts.
The organisation warned that there would be no movement, locally or long distance, of light or heavy-duty trucks nationally, and no trucks from neighbouring countries will be allowed to enter or leave South Africa.
A senior representative from a prominent Lowveld trucking company, who requested anonymity in fear of being victimised, said drivers were pulled over and forced to drive to a truck stop about one kilometre from the Dwarsrivier Chrome Mine in Steelpoort.
“Their identity documents were checked to verify that they were South African, before they were herded into the truck stop where they were held until yesterday morning. As far as I can tell, there were no injuries reported and about 319 trucks were detained at the stop.”
ATDF’s grievances include the alleged ‘wrongful’ employment of foreign nationals by South African trucking companies. They also claim South African truck drivers are subjected to humiliation, exploitation and poor salaries by trucking companies.
According to the truck owners, the detention of the drivers holds severe implications for the economy. Industry representatives, fearing attacks on their drivers, said it is tantamount to hijacking. “Over the years, we have employed about five or six foreign nationals who have become like family,” the source continued. “They also have families to support. We cannot just let them go, especially considering that the ATDF is not even registered with the Bargaining Council.
“We also conduct a high volume of cross-border transportation of goods to neighbouring countries. What happens a few years down the line when South African drivers have to drive across the border and are attacked in those countries?”
When asked by Mpumalanga News how the SAPS planned to deal with the impending strike, Mpumalanga police spokesman, Brig Leonard Hlathi, said a task team has been appointed.
“However, I am not in a position to talk about the content of the plan.”
The Zambian government has issued a travel advisory, warning its truck drivers to avoid travelling on South Africa’s major routes on Monday.
This has prompted an economist to say the government needed to deal with the issues of truck violence on the N2 and N3 if South Africa wanted to firmly position itself as the gateway to Africa.
According to a message that has been widely shared on social media, drivers are warned that a national truckers’ strike has been planned for September 2.
The message states: “Just a heads up. The truck drivers are planning a national strike starting on September 2. Keep in mind that the supermarkets, fuel supplies rely on deliveries by trucks. If this materialises and it becomes an extended strike, we might be in for serious shortages. Are you prepared?”
Zambian high commission spokesperson Naomi Nyawali said they had received reports from drivers who have been threatened with violence ahead of the planned nationwide work stoppage.
“Some Zambian truck drivers have faced physical attacks and threats from their South African counterparts, who are fighting for better conditions from their employers,” she said.
Nyawali said they had warned drivers who would be entering or working in South Africa on September 2 to park their trucks in safe designated places.
Professor Jannie Rossouw of the Wits School of Economics said the ongoing attacks, targeting foreign drivers, had a devastating impact.
“It disrupts the economy at different levels and impacts on deliveries, which increases costs in the economy. It also impacts on other people, who are not truck drivers but who will not be allowed to reach their destinations,” he said.
Rossouw said South Africa wanted to be the gateway to Africa and specifically, to Southern Africa and the Southern African Development Community, so it was natural for the drivers not to be from this country. He said if other countries pulled their drivers from travelling SA roads, it would push the country further down the negative growth spiral.
Chief executive of the Road Freight Association, Gavin Kelly, said they were aware of the message. “All you can do is to warn drivers about the threat. Operators who can afford to reschedule travel will be able to do so. We are warning drivers to exercise caution,” he said.
Kelly said he did not want to create panic.
Spokesperson for the Department of Transport, Community Safety and Liaison in KwaZulu-Natal, Kwanele Ncalane, said while they acknowledged that people had a right to protest, they would not tolerate any disruptions that would impact on other road users.
“We have taken a harsh stance on those who operate outside the law. Police will act accordingly if there are those who seek to barricade the roads,” he said.
All Truck Drivers Foundation leader Sipho Zungu said he had heard about the message but did not know where it came from.
Last week, a Zimbabwean truck driver was shot while travelling on the N2, between Murchison and Paddock, on the KZN south coast. His truck was then set alight.
Thirty-seven-year-old Charles Ntini managed to crawl out of the truck and died at the side of the road.
Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele said Ntini had sustained bullet wounds in the left arm and chest, and had burn injuries to his body. He was declared dead at the scene.
The matter was transferred to the Provincial Task Team for further investigation.