WINDHOEK – While the Zambian government has already issued a travel advisory in anticipation of a national truck drivers’ strike in South Africa on Monday, September 2, the Namibian government, through the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, was still mum on the issue by yesterday afternoon. Zambia issued the travel advisory through which it warned its truck drivers to avoid travelling on South Africa’s major routes.
However, at the time of going to press, the Namibian government had not issued any travel warning for Namibian truck drivers regarding the strike, whose proponents threaten to violently expel foreign truckers from South Africa.
By yesterday afternoon neither the international relations ministry nor Namibia’s High Commission in Pretoria were aware of any travel advisories issued to Namibian truck drivers in response to a widely shared message on South Africa’s social media that was warning truck drivers about a national truckers’ strike planned for September 2.
The message states: “Just a heads up. The truck drivers are planning a national strike starting on September 2. Keep in mind that the supermarkets, fuel supplies rely on deliveries by trucks. If this materialises and it becomes an extended strike, we might be in for serious shortages. Are you prepared?”
According to a Zambian high commission spokesperson, Naomi Nyawali, numerous drivers have been threatened with violence ahead of the planned South African work stoppage.
“Some Zambian truck drivers have faced physical attacks and threats from their South African counterparts, who are fighting for better conditions from their employers,” she said.
Interestingly, one of Namibia’s biggest privately-owned transport operators, the FP du Toit Group, yesterday confirmed to New Era that they will not suspend operations to South Africa, where they have a number of major transport contracts. The FP du Toit Group, which comprises FP du Toit Transport, Wesbank Transport, Jet-X Couriers and Pro Parcel Distribution, however emphasised the safety of their drivers. According to FP du Toit’s chief executive officer, Stephan Terblanche, all their drivers undergo mandatory pre-trip debriefings, whereby they are given the contact numbers for all police stations on their routes. Terblanche explained that a number of the Group’s control rooms stay in constant contact with law enforcement on the relevant routes while the trucks are being electronically monitored 24 hours a day. The FP du Toit Group’s operations consist of some 560 trucks of all sizes and about 1 000 staff.
“Driver safety is of paramount importance to us,” said Terblanche, adding that all the Group’s trucks are installed with panic buttons. He added that the expected strike in South Africa has not been called by any representative union but by “cowboy transporters” or fly-by-night operators and disgruntled former employees. “There are a number of cowboy transporters who intend to keep certain trucks off certain routes. If successful these cowboys then attempt to claim these routes for themselves,” Terblanche said.
Based on research by South Africa’s Road Freight Association, which represents road freight service providers, more than 200 people, relating to the trucking industry, mostly foreign truck drivers, have been killed in South Africa since March last year. Groups of attackers claiming to be South African truck drivers have thrown petrol bombs at trucks and shot at, stoned, stabbed, and harassed foreign truck drivers to force them out of the trucking industry.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also confirmed that dozens of truck drivers in SA have died in attacks against foreigners since 2018, which has prompted HRW to call for stronger protection of foreign workers.
HRW’s Southern Africa director, Dewa Mavhinga, has since called on the SA government to “bring perpetrators to justice”. “The SA authorities are neither protecting foreign truck drivers against violence nor conducting effective investigations into those credibly implicated in attacks,” Mavhinga said. SA is a major destination for economic migrants from the Southern Africa region and the broader Africa, with many moving there from neighbouring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in search of work. South African trucking companies have been accused of preferring foreign truck drivers as they are prepared to work longer hours at reduced salaries, resulting in higher profits for the trucking companies.