South Africa’s main lines are burning, and its costing millions

 ·10 Jul 2023

Multiple trucks were set alight across key national value chain routes in South Africa, including the N3 Toll Route and N4, this past weekend and early this morning (10 July).

This is not the first instance of truck sabotage, with many drivers disheartened over the increase in immigrants working in the sector. No one is yet to claim the burning as their work, and no one has been linked.

Gugu Sokhela, a spokesperson from the All Truck Drivers Forum, said that if it is their members who conducted the crime, they would be brought forward to relevant law enforcement agencies.

He said, however, that one must understand the frustration experienced by truck drivers: “Some have not been working for many years, yet someone who is coming out of the country is enjoying being employed.”

Gavin Kelly, the CEO of the Road Freight Association (RFA), said that instances such as these have major negative impacts on the country’s economy.

He said that trucks carry roughly 80% of the goods in and around South Africa, as well as goods from international trade partners.

Kelly said that the long-term effects of such incidents would bring greater destruction to employment levels and will result in job losses as businesses and supporting sectors shrink and trade moves away from the country.

“Without trucks, South Africa stops… the scene that played out on the N3 at Van Reenen’s Pass in the early hours of 09 July 2023 was a ruthless attack on the road freight supply chain – and the effects (economic, business confidence, security, law and order and corridor movement) are far-reaching,” Kelly said.

Regarding the financial loss of instances like such, Kelly said that depending on the category of vehicle, the type and value of the cargo, and the specialised equipment required for the cargo: this can be anywhere between R3 million to R10 million.

“A simple calculation of capital losses (assets and cargoes) of the six trucks destroyed to date amounts to anything between R18 million to R60 million.”

If main truck lines are to continually be targeted, cargo owners will choose to move cargo through neighbouring countries.

The CEO said that this is already occurring as South African ports become inefficient and the surrounding ports develop, improve and drive efficiencies up.

“South Africa’s ‘Gateway to Africa’ status has been lost, and these attacks will further cement the move of transit freight from South Africa to neighbouring countries.”

Thousands of containers are transported through South Africa, and any delay along the N3 for example could lead to costs of between R5,000 and R7,500 a day per truck.

With a rough estimate of over 7,000 vehicles being affected for one day, this could easily reach around R35 million in sector losses, said Kelly.

“The N3 is probably the busiest corridor in South Africa, carrying far higher volumes of traffic (freight, passenger and light motor vehicles for commercial, tourism and private use) than any other corridor.”

“The cost to the South African economy, taking all the above into consideration, will run into billions of rand lost as business confidence from foreign investors plummets, and those who use South Africa as a transit hub turn away from us and move to other countries that are safe and more efficient,” he added.

Addressing the media on the sidelines of the ANC’s National Committee Meeting, President Cyril Ramaphsa condemned the attacks.

“I am concerned about these activities that have a negative impact on our economy, it is almost like economic sabotage, because burning trucks on a main artery is concerning, intelligence agencies are going to be giving him a report on it,” he said.

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