Truck drivers protest closed off N3 highway at Van Reenens Pass in the Free State between Johannesburg and Durban (Pic: @TrafficSA Twitter)
Durban - The N3 blockade by truck drivers, which caused traffic chaos and lengthy delays between Durban and Joburg, was economic sabotage the country could ill afford.

As well as causing financial loss to the owners of the goods being transported on the economic artery between the two cities, it would also tarnish the country’s image.

These were the views of economists and business leaders yesterday as they took stock of the damage caused by Wednesday’s protest action. With law enforcement, emergency and recovery services working throughout the night it was finally cleared yesterday morning.

Between 60 and 70 trucks were towed to impound areas.

The blockade - the first at Van Reenen’s Pass, between Harrismith and Tugela Plaza/Ladysmith - was a protest against the employment of foreigners as truck drivers, according to Con Roux, the commercial manager of the N3 Toll Concession.

While large volumes of traffic was diverted from the area, heavy vehicles could not take the same roads and ended up being stranded for hours.

“When people start having a blockade for whatever grievance, that borders on criminality and we want to urge the state not to create a situation of lawlessness,” said Alan Mukok, the chief executive of the South African Chamber of Commerce.

Economist Dawie Roodt said the blockade would have had a significant economic impact on businesses caught up in it.“My biggest concern is that every day there is another issue and it is undermining business confidence in South Africa as an investment destination. It’s not just economic issues: it’s social and political issues as well.”

Andrzej Kiepiela, the co-odinator of the KZN Growth Coalition, a partnership between the provincial government and business, said he was disappointed because various engagements had taken place between the police and other security organisations to curtail illegal activity.

He said such a blockade would have a ripple effect - goods unable to be loaded on ships would stack up at the harbour as the ships they were supposed to be on had left. As a result, a shipowner might in future direct the ship to sail to Maputo instead of Durban.

Sihle Zikalala, the Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC, said:

“The Port of Durban is the busiest port in South Africa in terms of container handling. It services the country and others, particularly the Southern African Development Community.”

Yesterday, Police Minister Bheki Cele applauded the swift action of police in maintaining law and order on the N3. He appealed to the trucking industry to be part of the solution and not create more room for destructive behaviour on the roads. “If drivers are raising genuine grievances then those must be received by willing hearts and minds for a better and long-lasting solution in resolving the ongoing dispute,” said Cele.

Daily News