The private sector has thrown the strongest challenge yet to the government’s resolve to keep the economy running, as the N3 to the Port of Durban and beyond was again under siege from truck drivers who blocked the crucial arterial again yesterday to press demands to stop the employment of foreign nationals, and the fuel price hikes.
The Road Freight Association (RFA) and Business Unity South Africa (Busa) have called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to deploy the army and police personnel to end the blockades.
“We consider this continued disruption of economic activity a crisis, and ask the president to intervene to ensure appropriate resources are mobilised to pre-empt these disruptions and clear the blockade urgently,” Busa said.
The RFA asked Ramaphosa to “instruct the ministers of police, transport, defence, and the military veterans to perform their duties to restore order and listen to the proposals made by the representative, compliant transporters within the sector”.
In an open letter to Ramaphosa, the RFA said more than R300 million had been lost already, with more potential losses in trade and business to and through South Africa, due to the blockades at Howick on the N3 and Van Reenen’s Pass.
“Our ports will become ghost towns… And the surrounding businesses relating to activities of trade and support will close. It will just result in more unemployment,” the RFA’s chief executive, Gavin Kelly, warned.
Kelly said the economic impact initially felt and carried and absorbed by all the transporters stuck on the various routes, was not only enormous with about R25m lost on truck operating costs, but these could also cripple many smaller operators. Currently, 88 percent of the RFA’s members are SMMEs, a vital employer in the economy.
He said it will have a serious knock-on effect into all other industry sectors – from manufacturing to retail – and will result in penalties for late delivery, damaged goods, contract breach… Even loss of business, thereby creating more unemployment.
“Ships will sail past to other ports – they will not wait for us to ‘get our act together’,” Kelly said.
Busa chief executive Cas Coovadia, in a statement yesterday, said the blockades were a recurring occurrence and that his organisation has consistently appealed to the government to take proactive measures to halt and arrest those responsible.
“It is very clear that our appeals have not been heeded and there appears to be no accountability in the government for this, and we do not see any consequences for those perpetrating these acts.
“The economic impact is obvious given that the N3 is a critical arterial for the transport of essential and strategic goods between Johannesburg and Durban, and areas like Richards Bay,” Coovadia said.
Busa said it despaired at the silence from the transport minister about this significant disruption of economic activity, at a time when the country needs to instil confidence among investors and put South Africa onto a sustainable growth path.
The All Truck Drivers Forum and Allied South Africa (ATDF ASA), has, however, insisted that it was the private sector trucking companies that were to blame for the situation and that it supported the blockade to weed out foreign truck drivers.
ATDF ASA’s Sifiso Nyathi said they supported those truck drivers blocking the N3.
“The people who created this problem are the truck owners, and not the drivers. It is the employers who created this blockage and protest, because they are arrogant and not prepared to employ South Africans,” he said.
Truck drivers intensified their national strike against the employment of foreign nationals and the fuel hike on Thursday morning. This comes after disgruntled truck drivers obstructed the highway in both directions on Van Reenen’s Pass and at Tugela Plaza.
Bergville to Free State has been closed for trucks diverted from the blockaded N3 in Van Reenen’s Pass due to the bad condition of the road. At this stage, only light motor vehicles can access that stretch.
Earlier this week, the KwaZulu-Natal Growth Coalition – a collaboration between business and the provincial government – alluded to Transnet’s speedy response to repaid infrastructure damaged by the recent floods, which bogged down logistics.
“The KZN Growth Coalition welcomes the urgent steps taken by Transnet to repair damage caused by the recent floods in the province, which will make a substantial difference to restoring economic activity in the province.
Transnet’s interventions – which include repairing and reopening the line on the container corridor between Durban and Cato Ridge – have resulted in the reinstatement of freight traffic between Gauteng and Durban harbour, and have provided great relief to both the provincial government and business in the province,” coalition chairperson Moses Tembe said.