Durban – More than 350 angry local truck drivers went on the rampage on the N2 highway near the old Durban airport yesterday, stoning trucks and disrupting traffic, protesting against the hiring of foreign nationals, The Mercury has reported.
They have vowed to continue the protest action until employers give them an undertaking that no foreign drivers will be employed.
Police had to use rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
The protesters stormed the old Durban airport demanding to meet with employers based at the site.
The police were called in and the group was dispersed. However, they ran on to the highway and began stoning trucks and pulling out drivers.
KZN police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele confirmed the incident and said that Public Order Police had been deployed.
“A group of people embarked on a protest, blocking vehicles from entering the old airport premises. The police instructed them to disperse. The protesters pelted them with stones. The police then used rubber bullets to disperse the unruly crowd,” said Mbele.
She said a case of public violence had been opened at Isipingo police station.
A local truck driver told The Mercury they were being overlooked for employment in favour of foreign nationals.
He said they were tired of discussions and would continue to cause destruction until their demands were met.
He threatened that they would bring all trucking activity to a halt in the province, including at the port.
“Soon, we will make sure that no truck is moving. We cannot starve while foreigners are eating nicely.
“We are tired of being unemployed. We have been quiet for too long now. If the government does not deal with the employers, we will deal with them. We also want to feed our families,” he said.
Ntsanananda Gasa, of the All Truck Drivers’ Foundation, which advocates for 100% employment of local drivers, said their members were angry as they kept raising the same issue with no resolution in sight.
Gasa said they were not xenophobic but only wanted to feed their families.
“We have a problem in this country in that whenever we want to raise an issue, the police are ready to attack us. This time as well, the truck owners called the police to shoot us. This shows that they are not willing to hear us or even talk to us,” added Gasa.
He said that while they did not condone violence, it would be their last resort to ensure their demands were met.
In June last year, after several trucks were torched during violent protest action over the employment of foreign nationals, a task team, comprising senior officials from the departments of Labour, Home Affairs, Transport, the KZN Premier’s Office, and representatives from the truck owners’ and drivers’ associations was formed.
Gasa described the task team as useless as they had not yielded any positive outcomes.
“Since 2016 we have been fighting this issue nationally, but still nothing has happened. We have been going to various meetings with different task teams and there are still no resolutions. They are all making empty promises. We are tired now,” he said.
He added that while he could not confirm when the intensified shutdown of the truck movement in Durban would happen, the deadlock in negotiations would make it a reality.
“This is sad. We fail to understand our government and their stance on unemployment. People are angry. They are tired of being treated as foreigners in their own country,” he said.
Trucking industry advocate Priya Hassan, from the Positive Freight Solution Forum, said that based on the report that they had received, the industry was heading for worse destruction than they had previously anticipated.
Hassan said the reports that 90% of truck drivers in the country were foreign nationals were not true.
“How is it that whenever there is a truck strike, 80% of our trucks do not operate?” asked Hassan.
“We have asked for all these people that are advocating for violence and destruction to be arrested, but that has not happened. If the truck business owners decide to shut down their operation and move to other countries, they are to blame,” she said.
A truck owner, who did not want to be named, said they had received reports from other countries that if the drivers decided to remove foreign nationals, these countries would prohibit South African drivers from crossing their borders.
“How much longer we are supposed to tolerate such actions and sabotage? Are the police not making any arrests? There are a lot of truck owners who want to fight fire with fire, and sooner or later, we owners will fight back,” said the owner.
KZN Department of Transport spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said it was not correct to say that the government was neglecting the issues raised by the truck drivers.
He said everyone needed to appreciate that the country was in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected meetings and discussions.
He said that, as such, when there were issues they must raise them with the appropriate structure so that they could be attended to.
Responding to the threats, Ncalane said they took them seriously.
“We are not anticipating that people will ignore the platform created by the government to go to the streets and cause havoc. Most moving trucks are carrying essential goods that are needed during this pandemic.
“This is not only going to affect the economy, it will also affect people’s need for these essentials as it includes personal protective equipment,” said Ncalane.