Durban - Sixty-two protesting truck drivers were arrested for blockading the N3 Freeway between Durban and Johannesburg, police spokesperson, Thembeka Mbele said on Thursday.
The drivers were charged with public violence and obstructing traffic and were expected to appear in court soon, she said.
By Thursday morning, the northern lanes of the N3 towards Gauteng had been opened. The southern lanes from Gauteng to Johannesburg was still blocked but authorities were removing the trucks from the road. They expected the freeway to be cleared by midday on Thursday.
Road Traffic Inspectorate spokesperson Zinhle Mngomezulu said some of the drivers who blockaded the freeway were arrested, while others simply abandoned their trucks.
“Seven trucks remain on the road. With each truck at around 22 meters long, it is is still causing disruption and backlog. The Johannesburg-bound lane is now completely clear. We are still working on the Durban-bound lane,” she said on Thursday morning.
Mngomezulu has advised motorist to continue to use alternate routes for the area.
On Wednesday around 100 trucks blockaded the road on Van Reenen's Pass. In a statement N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) - the company managing the N3 Toll Route between Cedara in KwaZulu-Natal and Heidelberg in Gauteng - advised motorists to avoid travel to this area.
They advised motorists to use the following routes as alternatives:
- R74 – via Oliviershoek Pass
- R34/N11 – Vrede/New Castle/Ladysmith
- R23 - via Heidelberg/Standerton/Volksrust/Ladysmith
Mbele confirmed that protesters threw stones at police vehicles and moving trucks and even public transport was affected. “Drivers were requesting Department of Labour and Home Affairs (officials) to come and address their demands. The relevant departments have been informed,” she said.
Social media reports from trucking companies suggest the protests are a result of South African truckers being angry about the employment of foreign drivers in the industry.
Meanwhile on Thursday motorists woke to news that the protests had spread to N1 Freeway, with protest action being reported near Bloemfontein N1.
Gauteng Department of Community Safety spokesman, Ofentse Morwane, was not aware of the reports, but said he would look into them.
In a statement on Wednesday, Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande condemned the blocking of roads, and torching of public and private property by protesters in various areas of South Africa - including the N3 Toll Route.
Amongst the reported incidences to his ministry were protests involving the torching and looting of two cargo trucks and the blockading of the N2 between Mtubatuba and Hluhluwe in the northern parts of KwaZulu Natal and also the blocking of the road using earthmovers by Ethekwini Municipal Workers at the Springfield Park in Durban.
"Any person who blocks roads conducts a criminal act and will be charged and prosecuted," said Nzimande. I want to reiterate the government call that any legitimate concern that communities have, should be raised in a non-violent manner and in line with the laws of our country governing. Any criminal acts, in the form of violence, destruction of state and private property, looting and the blockading of the road under the pretext of service delivery protests will not be tolerated," said Nzimande.
Mbele said police were still confirming the exact number of drivers that were arrested for protests on the N3.