Inside EWN Roundtable: Unpacking the broader effect of truck attacks

Inside EWN looks at the effects of the recent truck attacks in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng.

One of two trucks set alight on the N2 highway in eMpangeni, KwaZulu-Natal on 10 July 2023. Picture: Nhlanhla Mabaso/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - The motive behind the recent burning of trucks on national roads is unclear but the widespread nature thereof undoubtedly presents economic implications.

More than 20 trucks were torched last week, with incidents reported in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng.

While five suspects are expected to appear in the Ermelo Magistrates Court on Monday for their part in the attacks on trucks in Mpumalanga, spokesperson of the South African Police Service, Athlenda Mathe, said that the ringleaders are believed to be based in KwaZulu-Natal.

Speaking as a panelist on the discussion about the broader effect of the truck arsons on the roads and the impact, SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen said that as the Human Rights Commission, they simply could not allow for such lawlessness to prevail because similar incidents during the 2021 July unrests should have prepared authorities to ensure that such attacks never happened again.

“As the commission, we asked the law enforcement agencies to do whatever they can do to ensure that justice is done in terms of arrests and prosecution because the fact of the matter is that we cannot allow lawlessness in this country and it's called upon the authorities in the past to make sure that the variable plans are on-site to protect this economic corridor.”

He also added that the recent torching of trucks was a criminal.

"This is a criminality that people think they can do without consequences and is not only here but also throughout the country. We see a lot of decaying and disfunction in our society but in this case, clearly it's purely criminal and that the law must take its course."

While the aspect of criminality on these attacks contributes to the high crime rates in SA, another effect of the torching of trucks is economic loss because trucks remain an important part of the South African economy, as they are responsible for transporting goods throughout the country and even some parts of the African continent.

Road Freight Association CEO, Gavin Kelly, said that the cost to damage was broad and had to be categorised according to the type of the truck and what it contained, but he said what was more deterring was when the owners of the truck could not continue to do business.

“When we look at the costs, then it depends very much on the type of vehicle that's being used because some of the vehicles are pretty simple style, with no special equipment and can cost you somewhere up to R5 million depending on the type of technology you put. All the more important ones, in terms of having special equipment, could cost you up to R10 million, including all of these various things like temperature controls, pressure controls etc. And many of those companies whose trucks are burnt just cannot get back up and operating.”

Truck driver Johan, whose identity was hidden for safety reasons, told the panel that he feared for his life, especially when he has to drive in the direction where they are burning trucks.

“The level of fear that is amongst us as drivers is inexplicable. We are scared. I mean if you get on the road and you're driving in the direction and you know that they're burning trucks in the front of you or it might happen behind you and you might get stuck in between. At the moment, we're at a point where we don't know who to trust as it might be the system, local community members or even fellow drivers that might terrorise you.”

He also added that when driving in South Africa, he feared taking breaks while driving because of the reality of crime in our country, but when he is on cross-border duty, taking breaks in other countries is different and much safer.

However, Nissen said that this county was not going down the drain but drivers were the heartbeat of the economy and society we should find ways of protecting them.

"We need to implement protection plans coming from law enforcement agencies and finding a way to protect goods from one place to another."

Listen to the full discussion below: