Migrant truck drivers live in fear as government leads harassment campaign

Members of the All Truck Drivers Forum hold a banner that reads, “South Africa First Foreign Drivers Must Fall / We Will Die For Our Country / We Want 100% South African Drivers In the Trucking Industry,” outside of the Pietermaritzburg High Court on July 18, 2019. Photo: Human Rights Watch 2019

The government-led clampdown on foreign drivers has created fear and insecurity among foreign drivers, both documented and undocumented.

The road freight and logistics industry has for the past two years been sucked in by violence resulting in the destruction of property and the torching of several trucks. At the source of the violence are allegations raised by local drivers against trucking companies they accuse of employing foreign drivers.

The All Truck Drivers Forum and Allied South Africa (ATDF ASA) has been at the centre of actions against the employment of non-South African drivers. The organisation agitates for tough laws that would reserve the driving of trucks for bona fide South Africans only.

Previously, the tension had been concentrated in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, but it reached a breaking point in October when ATDF ASA members barricaded all roads in Middleburg, Eastern Cape.

Eastern Cape Department of Employment and Labour spokesperson, Ziphozihle Josefu said, “Minister Nxesi and Minister Mbalula met the aggrieved truck drivers earlier in the month of October 2021 in Middleburg, Eastern Cape where commitments were made amongst which was regular inspections to be conducted in the road freight industry by checking compliance with applicable legislation and dealing with undocumented foreign nationals including those who arrive in the country as visitors but end up taking employment.”

The department from 22 to 26 November led a multi-disciplinary task team blitz in Gqeberha. The task team included the Department of Home Affairs, South African Police Services, and the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry. They targeted non-compliance in the road freight sector. The blitz nabbed five foreign truck drivers who were arrested for being in the country illegally while two Zimbabwean nationals in a private car were arrested for having no proper documents to stay in the country. Another driver was arrested for producing a fraudulent work permit, and an employer was fined R10,000 for employing an undocumented foreign national.

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The department said in a statement, “The multi-disciplinary team conducted 87 integrated inspections and found 49 employers fully compliant with 38 of them not compliant and were issued with 44 notices on the spot.” Areas of non-compliance were failures to keep records and submit declarations, failure to declare employees in terms of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, while some premises were found without necessary personal protective equipment. Other violations were that emergency doors at some factories were blocked, fire extinguishers were not serviced, and some forklifts were found not to have safety belts.

The clampdown on foreign drivers has created fear and insecurity among foreign drivers, both documented and undocumented.

Fear and insecurity among foreign drivers due to recent roadblocks in Gqeberha

The multi-disciplinary team conducted two roadblocks, at the N2 Truck Inn and the other at Kinkelbos Weighbridge. The clampdown on foreign drivers has created fear and insecurity among foreign drivers, both documented and undocumented.

A driver who comes from Zimbabwe but whose documents are in order and works for a poultry producing plant in Kariega said ATDF ASA is targeting all foreign drivers regardless of the status of their documents. The driver said, “I had a very nasty experience last month when ATDF ASA blocked all roads in Middleburg. They performed the duties of police officers and immigration department. They grabbed away my ignition keys and forced me out of the truck. They violently sifted through all my documents and warned me that I should not drive in South Africa again. I was terrified. They then forced me to turn the truck and block the road.”

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Another driver who comes from Swaziland said he paid R2,000 to a group of ATDF ASA members in July near Durban. He said he has a valid South African Code 14 driver’s license but does not have a valid work permit. He told Elitsha, “I was accosted by ATDF ASA members at a garage near Durban. They badly beat me up with clenched fists till I bled and passed out. They woke me up and demanded money so that they would give me back my ignition keys. They are law unto themselves.”

The labour department said it experienced “unprofessional conduct by All Truck Drivers Forum and Allied South Africa members during the recent inspections (in Gqeberha). Inspectors were accused of being incompetent by ATDF ASA if they did not find non-compliance.”

The department said the provincial road freight and logistics task team chairperson, Neil Naidoo, and the department’s chief director of provincial operations, Nomfundo Douw-Jack, will convene a meeting with ATDF ASA to address various grievances.

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About Joseph Chirume 45 Articles
I was born in the shoe manufacturing town of Gweru in Zimbabwe,1970. I came to South Africa and did some odd jobs before writing for a number of publications. At present I am doing a Masters in Journalism through distance learning.