A large truck that was torched in a violent protest at the Mooi River toll plaza. The alcohol it was carrying was stolen by looters or destroyed, and its driver was doused with petrol. Picture: SNB Freight.
Mooi River - A driver of one of the trucks that was torched at the N3 Mooi River toll plaza says had the police not arrived in the nick of time, he would have been burnt to death.

Jimmy Dlezi, 42, said the protesters poured petrol on his face then set the trailer of the truck alight.

“I tried to get out of the truck but they wouldn’t let me. I was 100% sure I was going to die. Luckily the police came and saved me,” he said.

The protesters were reportedly South African truck drivers who blamed foreign nationals for their unemployment.

They burned tyres and barricaded the N3 at the Mooi River toll plaza in both directions from about 3am yesterday morning.

This led to the closure of the N3, bringing traffic to a complete standstill just as scores were leaving or returning to Durban after the Easter holidays.

Dlezi said he was approaching the tollgate at about 4am when he saw the protesters burning tyres across the freeway.

While he tried to phone his employer, as unlike the smaller vehicles he could not make a U-turn, the truck was pelted with stones.

“I jumped out and tried to run away, but they caught me and put me back in the truck.”

Dlezi said the men all spoke at the same time, saying he was a foreigner and was taking their jobs. They were armed with rocks and sticks, and one had a knife.

The father of three from Port Shepstone said his request for them to verify that he was South African by looking at his driving licence fell on deaf ears, and they emptied a bottle full of petrol on him and in the truck, and closed the doors with him inside.

Once the trailer of the 26-wheeler truck was alight Dlezi tried to run, but they would not let him out and threw stones at approaching police vehicles.

However, the police were able to rescue him.

Transport department spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane yesterday condemned the violent protest, saying that while they noted the plight of the drivers, their complaints needed to go through the right channels.

“The N3 is an economic corridor, it can’t just be closed because people are unhappy with their conditions of employment,” said Ncalane.

Suren Hansraj of Durban-based SNB Freight, which owns the R2.5million truck Dlezi was driving, said it had been burnt to a skeleton, and alcohol valued at R550 000 had been destroyed or looted.

Local councillor Nhlalayenza Ndlovu said while the neighbouring community of Bruntville were not involved in the protest, residents from the area had looted the trucks.

“People need to understand that this is as criminal as the violence that stopped the truck in the first place,” he said.

Police Minister Bheki Cele, who visited the scene, said he was concerned that those arrested for looting were young people. He said that while they stole mainly grocery items, others had brought in vans to steal alcohol.

The protest comes as ­Mxolisi Kaunda, the MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, prepares to chair a provincial cabinet subcommittee meeting to discuss how to deal with public protests and unrest.

Ncalane said the aim of the meeting was to develop a comprehensive response to deal with volatile protests, which are on the rise.

Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said 10 people had been arrested for public violence.

Ncalane commended law enforcement agencies for bringing the situation under control and dispersing the protesters.

Cape Argus