DURBAN - Foreign nationals, employed as truck drivers were forced to abandon their vehicles in afternoon peak-hour traffic yesterday, as local drivers intensified their protest action which started on Sunday.
Seven trucks were left abandoned in Bayhead, Glastonbury and Umbilo roads after local drivers protested against the employment of foreigners.
The blockade has angered Transport Minister Blade Nzimande, who called on the police to arrest those taking part in acts of economic sabotage by blocking the movement of trucks.
The latest protest action comes after a huge traffic delay on the N3 highway at Key Ridge before the Peacevale off-ramp on Sunday morning after truck drivers blocked the road.
In Durban yesterday, about 40 protesters blockaded the roads, forcing all truck drivers to stop and demanding that they produce their papers.
The angry protesters took the keys and left the trucks blocking the Bayhead Pier, much to the frustration of motorists who were stuck in peak hour traffic.
Sipho Zungu of the All Truck Drivers Foundation, blamed Nzimande for the chaos. “It’s the minister’s fault. If he had responded early none of this would have happened. Drivers have so many questions and we don’t have answers as we are waiting for Nzimande’s response,” he said.
Zungu said the foundation had a meeting with Nzimande in January and he promised to come back to them before the end of February.
“It’s March now and people are angry. There is nothing we can do to keep them calm,” he said.
A Zimbabwean truck driver, who who asked not to be named, said he had been employed by his company for two weeks
“They came singing and dancing and stopped the truck. They asked for my driver’s licence and passport. When I told them that I don’t have my documents with me because I left them at the office they slapped me and told me to come out of the truck,” said the driver.
He said they then took the keys and traffic register as they continued to stop other trucks.
Another truck driver from Malawi, who had his keys removed from his truck at a traffic light, said the protesters were not carrying any weapons but he still feared for his life.
“We are not safe now. Sooner or later they are going to kill us while we are on the road. I didn’t take anyone’s job. I am also just trying to make a living as well,” said the driver.
Nzimande said in a statement that blocking the truck drivers was not only preventing the flow of traffic, but it was also sabotage to the economy of the country.
“It is disingenuous for some truck drivers to block the road or engage in any protest while there are current engagements between the government and the foundation,” said Nzimande.
According to the minister, an interdepartmental team comprising the Department of Home Affairs, Department of Labour and the sector’s bargaining council held meetings to process the issues raised by the trucking foundation.
“The Department of Transport took the initiative to get the relevant stakeholders to resolve the matter as a labour dispute because this had unfairly impacted on the flow of transport on our highways,” said Nzimande.
He said the Department of Labour was tasked with conducting unannounced inspections of unscrupulous employers who disregarded the country’s labour laws.
He said that law enforcement officers were tasked to identify routes with high volumes of cross border truck movement and conduct multi-disciplinary roadblock operations.
“We have also consistently impressed on the associations representing workers in a number of meetings we have held for them to take up their grievances to the appropriate bargaining chamber and not block our highways.
“Similarly, we have met and urged employers to work towards resolving the grievances of truck drivers speedily, whose major complaint is the employment of foreign nationals in the trucking industry, “ added Nzimande.
“We urge the law enforcement agencies to ensure that those who break the law and disrupt the flow of traffic are apprehended and for the trucks to be impounded,” said Nzimande.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said the protesters were cutting trucks’ ignition wires, rendering them immobile.
“A case of malicious damage to property was opened at the Maydon Wharf police station for investigation. No arrests have been made and no injuries were reported,” said Zwane.