Between the 8th and 12th of July, a notorious crew of alleged criminals, armed to the teeth, caused widespread disorder during the night. Their bold strategy consisted of stopping unsuspecting trucks, forcing the drivers to leave their vehicles, and then setting them on fire after dousing them in fuel. This daring method was carried out with great enthusiasm in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga, where the violence reached its peak.

By Ntandokazi Nxumalo

Private security firms have become important contributors in the ongoing fight against truck violence on the national roads of KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga. These companies are offering valuable support to the police in their efforts to investigate these incidents.

In recent interviews, senior managers from these firms disclosed that the crimes committed by truck-driver-turned criminals now involve extortion of money. Due to the involvement of private security firms, the police have made several arrests, and the suspects are scheduled to appear in court this week.

The manager of the Anti-Crime Security Unit, Bester Maree, released a video from a dashboard camera in order to find one of the suspects. His efforts were successful as he managed to locate the suspect, which ultimately resulted in the arrest of the other two individuals involved. The evidence provided by Maree proved that this was a highly organised criminal group.

“The motive behind this was to extort employers, through intimidation after having proven they are capable of causing damage to the trucks. He said that initially, the group raised the same issues of undocumented foreign nationals and the desire for better working conditions but when this plea fell on deaf ears, they took a more rogue route to cause a standstill in the industry,” said Maree.

In a span of only five days, 21 trucks were set on fire. Among them was a truck owned by LI Coal, valued at R2.5 million, which was found burnt on the road with a load of coal still on its back.

From 8 to 12 July, a gang of suspected criminals armed with firearms halted trucks during the night, forced the drivers to exit the vehicles, and proceeded to pour fuel to set them on fire. This same method was employed in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga, where the violence was most intense.

A truck driver, who requested anonymity due to concerns of potential reprisals, recounted an unsettling experience wherein he was forcibly removed from his vehicle, which was subsequently set ablaze. The incident left him deeply distressed, as he was held at gunpoint and coerced into surrendering his mobile phone. In a desperate bid for survival, he managed to escape the scene.

The driver, who is a citizen of Zimbabwe, said he lost all official documents that served as evidence of his identity, nationality, and licenses as a result of the fire: “I think these acts are purely xenophobic and that the rate of unemployment is the cause of these acts.”

After the burning of trucks, which has been labelled as “economic sabotage”, three people were apprehended in various locations in Mpumalanga. These three suspects were truck drivers affiliated with the All-Truck Drivers Forum (ATDF); an association established to advocate for the labour rights of drivers.

Before the disclosure of the arrested suspects’ association, the Secretary of the Association of Truck Drivers Federation (ATDF), Sifiso Nyathi, openly acknowledged the widespread dissatisfaction among truck drivers and emphasised that their organisation has been persistently advocating for their rights and concerns over the years.

In 2020, the ATDF organized a peaceful march to express their concerns about the employment of undocumented foreign nationals. During this protest, drivers chose not to work as a form of boycott. It is worth noting that there were no reported fatalities or damage to properties or trucks. The drivers also advocated for improved working conditions, including fair treatment regarding regular working hours, proper compensation for overtime, and an increase in salaries.

“These demands were not met by their employers,” Nyathi said.

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