Colleta Dewa in Johannesburg
The atmosphere remains tense in South Africa following a spate of violence that targeted foreign haulage truck drivers in the country last week.
Local haulage truck drivers blocked the road along the Johannesburg-Durban (N3) highway from both directions dismantling trucks driven by foreigners.
Zimbabwean truck driver Amos Guvaza told The Southern Times that they feared for the worst.
“What happened last week in a sign that anything can happen anytime. Because of the fact that we travel even during the night, they can still ambush us again. We are no longer safe. They accuse us of taking their jobs and accepting low salaries. We just hope the government will intervene and knock some sense of tolerance in them,” he said.
A Tanzanian driver, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the situation remained tense as some of his local workmates continued to threaten them.
“It is worrisome to work with people who call you all sorts of names. They call us makwerekwere and every time when anything goes wrong, they are quick to point fingers. My fear is to be burnt alive.
“I have a family and children back home. I just wish I could get a job back home and live with confidence. It just feels so hard to be a foreigner. Police did right by arresting them but the truth is we are still being victimised at the workplace,” he said.
Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro, Zimbabwe’s consul-general, confirmed last week’s ordeal saying police have already arrested the perpetrators.
“I can confirm there was a massive protest by haulage truck drivers as South Africans claimed that foreign drivers are taking away their jobs. The protest was also done for a number of other reasons which include little salaries, harsh working conditions for them, with foreign drivers being pointed as the sole problem causers.
“About 63 people were arrested and will appear in court. The protesters took advantage and decided to make their statement in a mountainous area, Van Reneen Pass in Harrismith between Johannesburg and Durban,” he said.
Local drivers were demanding that all foreign drivers dump their trucks at the pass and leave the country with immediate effect.
Armed police teams were engaged to disperse the protesters.
Police Minister Bheki Cele condemned the violence and warned the perpetrators that law enforcement agents will not tolerate such rowdy behaviour.
“We have laws in this country and the full might of the law will be heard and felt. Police action will be very tough in maintaining law and order. This barbaric behaviour will not be tolerated. Swift and tough action by the police is once again an indication of our commitment to maintain law and order in our country. No amount of pressure will divert our focus from stamping hard the authority of the state,” he said.
He said the trucking industry should be part of the solution and not create more room for destructive behaviour on the country’s roads.
The minister also expressed concern over the growing trend of truckers blockading roads in protests.
“If drivers are raising genuine grievances, then those must be received by willing hearts and minds for a better and long lasting solution in resolving the ongoing dispute. The employment processes of the industry must take into consideration the dynamics of the high unemployment rate of South Africans while equally balancing the import of certain skills,” added the minister.
The incident raised fears of xenophobic attacks. In 2008 many foreigners died following deadly xenophobic attacks in the country. More attacks also took place in 2015.
Earlier this week‚ a group of nearly 150 trucks from Mpumalanga Transport Company stopped on either side of the N4 near Komatipoort in Mpumalanga as drivers embarked on a strike on Tuesday.
Hlasinyane Motaung of the Motor Transport Workers’ Union (MTWU) said the truck drivers were unhappy because the employer had outsourced staff.
Motaung said the striking truck drivers had not blockaded the highway but acknowledged that the presence of their large vehicles on the side of the road had caused traffic to slow down.