Durban - Economists have warned a looming wildcat strike by truck drivers on July 18 could jack-knife the country’s strained economy.
Continued violence has seen about 60 trucks burnt in the past three weeks, resulting in damages of about R200million to vehicles alone.
“It could be double the amount if the cost of goods looted during the attacks is included,” said Mike Schussler of private economic research company Economists.co.za
He warned any further upheaval in the road freight industry could have serious consequences on the cost of living and chase away investors. The sector generates about R121billion annually.
“The troubles this industry has experienced thus far is likely to result in a half-percent increase in inflation.”
The stayaway is planned to coincide with the appearance of leaders from the All Truck Drivers Forum (ATDF) in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on July 18.
Positive Freight Solutions (PFS), an organisation representing truck company owners, alleged in court documents that five respondents; the ATDF, Sipho Zungu, Cele Khumulani, Mncebe Sihle and Nkosenye Buthelezi, were the masterminds behind continuing attacks.
The allegations were contained in an application the PFS brought last week.
Judge Ronel Jooste granted an interim order restraining the respondents from assaulting, abusing, harassing, threatening and intimidating PFS members.
They were ordered to refrain from damaging trucks and obstructing PFS members conducting business, and from publishing material inciting acts of violence against the applicants.
However, this week, truck owners were warned in a post circulated on several social media platforms that no trucks should operate on national roads on July 18 because “South African drivers’ leadership” were due in court.
The post labelled PFS a “racist cabal of Indians”, alleging drivers were treated as “slaves”. It accused PSF of hiring foreign drivers instead of locals.
The writer claimed drivers were prepared to die if police attempted to disperse them, urging supporters to gather during the night before the court case.
Zungu denied the ATDF leadership was behind the post, but said the support was welcomed.
No response was received from PFS.
Schussler said: “I believe it is a ruse that trucks were being attacked because foreigners were driving them. Many of the drivers lying in hospitals are South Africans. When you strike, you don’t kill and destroy. It is usually about wages. This is pure economic terrorism.”
Schussler said the disruption and destruction, mainly on the N3, was causing “road shedding”. “Eighty percent of goods transported in South Africa is done through road transport and about 6000 trucks pass through Tugela daily.”
Economics professor Bonke Dumisa said those behind the torching of trucks needed to be dealt with, adding authorities needed to thoroughly investigate flouting of labour laws.
Dawie Roodt, chief economist at the Efficient Group, accused government of failing to protect its citizens. “There is a lack of leadership in the country on so many levels, especially moral leadership. We are fast becoming a chaotic state.”
Palesa Phili, chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, said “visible law enforcement and timely responses are needed. Protests of this nature cannot be allowed. It is damaging our reputation and economic profile.”
Her organisation planned to conduct a round table meeting with all relevant role-players.
Earlier this week, KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala convened a meeting of various government departments, including transport, labour, police and home affairs, to address the issues in the industry.
One of the spin-offs was the formation of a “rapid response team” to monitor the N3 corridor and other major road networks.