Freight transport in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal grinds to a halt
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THE ROAD TRANSPORT sector has ground to a halt in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and with countless delivery vehicles, trucks and warehouses and transport depots vandalised or destroyed, it would be “many months” before the industry was fully operational again, Road Freight Association (RFA) executive director Gavin Kelly said yesterday.
Road carries 80 percent of South Africa's goods. The N3 highway, South Africa's main transport route from the port of Durban to Gauteng, has been out of operation since burning of trucks at the Mooi River toll plaza late last week, with only sections of it currently open.
Transnet said service levels in the ports of Durban and Richards Bay had been negatively affected, as the entire supply chain was closed, including the roads leading into and out of the port. On the rail side, a force majeure had been declared on the Natcor line, which links Durban and Gauteng, due to the unrest. The rest of its operations across the country continued to operate normally.
“Some of our staff have not been able to access operations as a result of road closures and unavailability of public transport,” the state-owned transport utility said in a statement.
Kelly said in a telephone interview the violence started with the burning of trucks in Mooi River and had extended into warehouses and transport depots of wholesalers, retailers and distribution centres in Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng, including to the vehicles there, and in many cases, there was nothing to transport, even if a transporter wished to put their vehicles on the road in the current dangerous environment.
Only once the violence ended – notices of damage were still flooding into the RFA yesterday midday – would transport operators be able to do an assessment, and then they would need to do repairs and maintenance.
Some transport operators would close for good, he said.
“Simply put: when trucks stop, South Africa stops. This is no short-term fix. What started out as sporadic incidents on one or two routes, has spread to the total supply chain, affecting all the transport legs, whether local or long-haul, as well as destinations and originations.”
He said the economic effects were far reaching – but the collapse of the supply of all goods would be the immediate result. Short-term losses to the transport sector alone would run into billions of rand, he said.
The cost of loss of income through businesses closing was far greater, he said.
“There are instances where small businesses have lost their only truck, or trucks. This means loss of revenue for the business, loss of salaries paid to staff who would no longer have jobs, and loss of revenue through the services and support the business uses such as fuel, storage and maintenance.
South Africa's “Gateway to Africa” status had been lost and the attacks would further cement a move already underway over the past three years due to South Africa's inefficient ports, of less transit freight from South Africa to neighbouring countries.
“Even local companies and logistics providers are looking at alternative export/import routes away from the KZN corridor,” he said.
“The consumer will foot the bill – through charges relating to the cost of logistics, the need to build reserves to repair damaged infrastructure, and as goods become scarce,” he said.
Imperial Logistics, one of the largest logistics companies in South Africa, said they had grounded their fleet and operations in high-risk areas, including KwaZulu-Natal and certain parts of Gauteng.
Teams were monitoring the situation and tighter security had been put in place at the group's operations and warehouses.
Imperial's corporate affairs and investor relations executive VP Esha Mansingh said essential medical supplies transport, in addition to other basic needs such as food, had been disrupted due to the grounding of their fleet on key affected routes.
Some of the group's drivers had been subject to violent tactics and were receiving trauma counselling.
Another JSE-listed transport company, the Super Group, said they were not in a position to disclose their planning and position at this stage, but would do so when appropriate.