The latest incident occurred on the N3 at Town Hill in the KZN Midlands on Monday.
In a video that has since gone viral on social media, alleged looters can be seen running to the truck, grabbing armfuls of beer cans and running back to their vehicles.
A local security company, employed to protect truckloads on the N3, said it had responded to numerous cases of looting on the highway.
An officer from the company, who did not want to be named, said looters were often aggressive and attacked those protecting the trucks.
“There have been several incidents since the beginning of the year. Sometimes you find that the goods are not properly stacked in trucks and when the vehicle is negotiating a bend, the load moves to one side and items fall from the truck.
“There are also cases where trucks were involved in crashes or moved slowly up a hill. Once looters arrive, they take whatever they can and run.
“They will prevent security guards from protecting the truck while another truck is sent out to pick up the load, or even stop the driver from trying to collect the items that have fallen,” the guard said.
He said companies pay anything from R6000 per load for security along its route.
Harbour Carriers Association chairperson in KZN, Sue Moodley, said the issue of looting had a major impact on the industry and the economy.
She said looting occurred at several areas along the N3 route, including Mooi River and Estcourt.
Moodley said it would be easier to transport items using a container. However, it was not always possible.
“Some items are loaded using a forklift and it may not be as easy when using a container,” she said.
KwaZulu-Natal provincial police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said there were visible policing unit officers, who have been deployed on the highways and major routes to prevent truck-related crimes and other criminal activities.
She said those who were caught looting would be charged and a case of theft opened.
Spokesperson for the KZN Department of Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Kwanele Ncalane said it has deployed teams to the N3 in the wake of the recent attacks on truck drivers.
However, he said the issue of truck looting was a historic one in the province. “We have noted a disturbing trend. The issue here is, first, that this is a criminal act and, second, that there are socio-economic factors at play.
“We find that communities in these areas see opportunities to loot food items while others are driven by criminality,” he said.
He said often when spaza shops in the area were searched, police found items that had been looted from trucks.
Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Palesa Phili said the country was heavily reliant on the transport and logistics sectors for transporting goods and services, adding that almost 90% of freight is transported via roads while half of that is transported along the N3.
“The sector is already affected by numerous cost increases such as the fuel price, the Road Accident Fund levy and the new carbon tax.
Additionally, the sector has to contend with costs related to vehicle tracking and tracing systems, warehousing and distribution operating costs,” she said.
Phili said because of the violence, some insurance companies have declined to extend insurance cover for claims emanating from unlawful conduct. She said the cost of additional security and security measures to protect equipment and cargo has severely escalated the operational cost of the vehicles.
“This is unsustainable for the sector given the fact that South Africa is already a constrained economy. These additional costs will eventually lead to higher consumer prices as well,” she said.