Traffic was backed up on the Durban-bound carriageway of the N3 south of Howick. File Picture: Zanele Zulu.
Traffic was backed up on the Durban-bound carriageway of the N3 south of Howick. File Picture: Zanele Zulu.

Truck blockade ‘to hit economy’, N3 key route closed during renewed protest

By Sibusiso Mboto Time of article published Oct 27, 2021

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DURBAN - SOUTH Africa’s key corridor for the movement of goods and services, the N3 highway, was blocked by aggrieved truck drivers yesterday who are calling for reform in the industry, including an end to the hiring of foreign truck drivers.

The issue of foreign nationals working in the trucking industry has been a long-standing issue. In 2019, a task team was set up by the government to address the grievances after several truck attacks took place.

At the time it was alleged that the truck attacks were being carried out by disgruntled local truck drivers who claimed foreigners were being given preference for jobs in the industry.

However, local truck driver organisations have denied involvement in the violence. Trucks were also torched during the July unrest.

Yesterday’s blockade, according to N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) spokesperson Anita Heyl, was in the vicinity of Montrose in the Free State and started shortly before midnight on Monday.

The blockade came after the N10 national route in Middelburg, Eastern Cape, was blocked by truck drivers on Sunday, also over the issue of foreigners being employed in the industry.

The N3TC manages the highway between the Cedara interchange in KwaZulu-Natal and Heidelberg Interchange in Gauteng.

“The N3 Toll Route was obstructed by trucks from shortly before midnight last night (25 October) in the vicinity of Montrose, Free State. All lanes (in both the north- and southbound directions) of the N3 Toll Route in the vicinity of Montrose were obstructed by the trucks,” Heyl said yesterday.

In an update last night, the N3TC indicated that the SAPS, with the support of emergency towing services, had begun to remove the stationary vehicles that had been blockading the road, adding that several arrests had been made.

The N3TC said a single lane had been reopened to northbound traffic travelling towards Gauteng; and one lane on the southbound carriageway was expected to be reopened shortly.

Attempts to get comment from the Free State SAPS were unsuccessful.

She said while the N3TC was responsible for the management and maintenance of the road infrastructure, it was not privy to the reasons nor motivation of the truckers who blocked the road.

“The N3TC did not directly engage with the truck drivers. It is considered to be a law enforcement matter,” Heyl continued, pointing out that law enforcement services were on the scene trying to address the matter.

Former All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF) chairperson Sipho Zungu warned yesterday that protest action would continue in the trucking industry if owners continued to employ foreign truck drivers.

“As I understand, the issues remain the same: the drivers are calling for the scrapping of the use of foreign labour in the trucking industry, and as long as such conditions remain, such actions will become a familiar feature,” said Zungu, who pointed out that he was no longer part of the ATDF leadership.

The Road Freight Association (RFA) called on the Ministers of Police and Transport to utilise their respective appointed peace officers to ensure that public roads remained open and free to use for all citizens, including the vehicles operated by freight and logistics companies.

RFA chief executive Gavin Kelly expressed concern over what he called a continual attack on the logistics supply chain. He further called for an end to the wilful disregard by sectors who continue to drive agendas outside the collective bargaining structure, and to those who attacked the law-abiding citizenry to further their grievances. Kelly blamed the government over the issue of foreign truck drivers.

“The government has promised to resolve the matter of illegal foreigners (in whatever industry) for a number of years – but has not done what was promised. Transporters (freight operators) who abide by the collective agreement signed with the representatives of truck drivers (unions) are targeted time and again without reason,” he concluded.

Agri SA joined in the call for government and primarily law enforcement agencies to act quickly to restore law and order on the critical route. Agri SA’s Christo van der Rheede warned that South Africa could not handle another interruption in the movement of goods, as this would have a severe impact on the economy.

“This blockade has an impact on the value chain across all sectors of the economy, whether agriculture or manufacturing, and it amounts to a selfish act on the part of those that have chosen to embark on it,” said Van der Rheede.

Following the July riots, Agri-SA added, there was a need to restore calm and confidence, especially in the international markets. The blockade would bring further harm to the economy.

“A delay in the arrival of goods at the harbour has costs attached to it, equally a delay to the arrival of food items in shops in Gauteng also carries costs. This appears to be a ploy to bring South Africa’s economy to its knees, and this is why there is a need for swift action on the matter.”

THE MERCURY

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