An integrated team of ministers, led by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, came together on June 3, 2019 to try and end the violent attacks on trucks on the N3. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Durban - “It is clear that we are now in a crisis.” This was Police Minister Bheki Cele’s declaration at a media briefing on Monday at the SAPS headquarters in Durban to address the burning of trucks in KwaZulu-Natal. Cele said this constituted economic sabotage. 

He was speaking after an inter-ministerial delegation met truck owners and drivers.

Cele revealed that the number of trucks burnt in KZN since Saturday stood at 17, with three more torched in Gauteng. He said 91 people had been arrested since the truck issues began, but there had not been any prosecutions yet.

Cele said they would not let the ongoing violence in the industry escalate into xenophobia.

The assurance comes amid growing fears that populists and xenophobes may use the legitimate grievances of the truck drivers, who want to end the employment of foreign truck drivers in the freight sector, to wage an all-out attack on foreigners in the province.

Cele said the fact that they were instructed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to leave an important ANC meeting to resolve the matter showed they were taking the situation seriously.

The inter-ministerial task team comprises senior officials from the departments of Labour, Home Affairs and Transport, the Premier’s Office and representatives of truck owners and drivers. On Monday was the first time the team met. 

Further meetings are expected to follow, involving ministers Fikile Mbalula, Thulas Nxesi and Aaron Motsoaledi.

After the weekend’s destruction of trucks, transport company owners used trucks to block the N3 freeway on Sunday night as a form of protest, calling for government intervention.

Advocate Priya Hasan, from the Positive Freight Solution Forum, which represents the truck owners, said they were committed to “stabilising the economic tragedy that has unfolded”.

“In the last three weeks we have had far more than 60 trucks burnt, together with a lot of injuries,” she said. “But we do not feel that there is not a solution that could come from this.”

KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala said the team would meet again in two weeks.

He said the stakeholders agreed on an eight-point plan that would end the crisis. Among the agreed points were the establishment of a rapid response team, an end to illegal employment of foreigners, skills development of local drivers, creation of a database of un- employed drivers, and a review of work permit legislation.

“We don’t expect disruptions anymore. If there are concerns from their constituency (truck drivers), they must bring these back to the task team.”

When asked how his approach would be different from his predecessor’s, Zikalala revealed the existence of an internal intelligence report compiled by the Department of Labour on the trucking issues dating back to last year.

According to Zikalala, the report has details of inspection results from trucking companies and employment statistics of foreign and local drivers.

Sipho Zungu and Bheki Biyela, who represent the aggrieved truck drivers, the All Truck Drivers’ Association and the National Truck Drivers’ Association respectively, distanced their members from the violence and committed themselves to the task team’s resolutions.

“The companies must do the right thing and give South Africans priority,” said Zungu. “They must not misuse the (work) permits. We do not want the companies to employ people who have permits and overlook those who don’t.”

Biyela said: “I can assure you this will not escalate into a full-blown xenophobic war. We are on top of it. This is not about attacking our foreign brothers, but it is all about hiring of foreign truck drivers in an illegal way. Trust us, we all want peace, hence we came here to seek peaceful solutions,” he said. 

- Additional reporting by Sihle Mavuso

Daily News