Crises in trucking and road freight
By Eustace Mashimbye
The recent resurgence of violence in the road freight sector, which has seen attacks on trucks and their drivers, is merely part of a greater national malaise, namely the scourge of unemployment.
It nevertheless has its roots in issues dating back three years which have remained unresolved and which were therefore ready to reignite at any time. The new wave of attacks is once again directed at foreign nationals and appears to be coordinated and organised.
The All Truck Drivers’ Foundation, which is at the forefront of the campaign claims that it is not xenophobic, but that its anger is directed specifically at foreign drivers and their employers.
This is nothing new as we have witnessed the same resentment and hostility against foreigners in a number of other sectors – we have seen township spaza shops looted, construction sites hijacked, and security guards threatened.
At a time when we are all rooting for the economic recovery of the country and should be pulling together to find whatever means possible to contribute, attacks on and destruction of property, goods, infrastructure and facilities are an assault on economic activity and employment opportunities. The perpetrators are waging economic warfare and we will all be the losers in the end.
The fight against foreign nationals is misdirected. Migrant workers, whether legal or illegal, are easy targets and are being demonised for taking jobs from South Africans. When unemployment is as rife as it currently is in South Africa – more than 30% - it is clear that poverty and disaffection will follow.
But the millions of South Africans who are without work aren’t unemployed because of foreign truck drivers or foreigners employed in any other sector. They are without work because our economy has not been growing at a rate that could sustain, let alone create jobs.
Government’s somewhat initial restrained approach to taking a bold position against the truck violence stems from the fact that it is hard for them to condemn people who are suffering without jobs. But looting and theft and the destruction of property using the language of economic emancipation and transformation to disguise criminal behaviour is to be condemned in the strongest way.
It is not foreigners here in South Africa who are taking our jobs. Rather we are creating jobs in those countries from whom we import more than R1 trillion worth of goods per annum. By buying imported goods we are exporting jobs. If we chose to buy more local goods and services, grown, produced or manufactured here in South Africa, we would boost economic activity, stimulate demand and create jobs in the process.
Narrow, targeted attacks on the handful of foreigners who are employed in South Africa are a symptom of the anger felt by disenfranchised locals. Disenfranchised because they have no economic voice and no recourse to action other than violent protest.
As Proudly South African, we say, direct whatever spend you may have, however meagre, to locally produced items and we will stimulate the economy and create jobs in the process. In the meantime, torching trucks and goods is taking livelihoods away from many more people than the targeted foreign nationals - including honest South Africans who are part of the value chains that supply the products transported by the trucks being torched.
In the words of Boom Shaka in their hit song Bambanani, which loosely translated means “Unite” or “Hold hands”, as Africa and as South Africa, we need to unite in the fight against poverty, violence and all social ills plaguing our country in order to ensure that we all contribute to the growth of our economy and not reverse whatever progress and gains that have slowly been made. One way we can do this is by supporting locally made products and the jobs created in those industries.
Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly South African