SAPS hunt 12 in truck arson wave as Police Minister rejects links to July 2021 riots
A dozen ‘people of interest’ have been identified in relation to the spate of truck burnings that ignited Sunday night in KwaZulu-Natal, South African Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Wednesday. The minister also said that there was no evidence linking these incidents to the July 2021 wave of unrest but they are not random.
Police Minister Bheki Cele made his remarks during a televised media briefing hours after the latest attack which involved the burning of four trucks shortly before dawn on Wednesday on the N2 between Piet Retief and Ermelo. Over 20 have been torched since Sunday night in KZN, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Authorities on high alert after truck torchings coincide with anniversary of 2021 riots
“Intelligence suggests that attacks on trucks may be business related and we know that these are not just random acts of criminality,” Cele said in prepared remarks. “Evidence before us points to organised coordinated and sophisticated operations that seek to undermine and sabotage the state.
“We are encouraged that 12 persons of interest have been identified through investigations and intelligence collection,” Cele said.
The persons of interest he said were “concentrated” in KZN and Mpumalanga with the centre of activities coordinated from northern KZN. The province has been a hotspot in this regard for years, with 107 cases of truck burning since 2018, Cele said.
The minister said the attacks in Limpopo, which involved three chrome trucks on the eastern limb of the platinum belt — a frequent flashpoint of unrest — appeared to be linked to “an ongoing labour dispute and service delivery issues” and did not appear to be connected to the KZN and Mpumalanga incidents.
The minister assured the public that the SAPS had a “plan of action” and had increased its presence on routes that are at risk.
“The SAPS has heightened police visibility and (were) leaving nothing to chance in all provinces.
“All major routes have been secured and regular patrols are being conducted along identified high-risk routes,” Cele said.
He also said there was no evidence that this spate of truck burnings was related to the July 2021 wave of rioting and looting that killed over 350 people and inflicted damage that amounted to R50-billion.
“As things stand, there is no evidence before us to suggest that the recent target on trucks are in any way related or linked to the July insurrection. I wish to take this opportunity to allay any fears that what transpired in July 2021 will repeat itself,” Cele said, adding that 67 people have been arrested in connection with that insurrection and their cases were before the courts.
“We have a capable state that has learnt from the past,” he said — an assertion it must be said that many critics will find questionable.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Truck attacks – five torched on N4 in Waterval Boven, follows similar attack on N3
Cele reiterated during the media Q&A which followed that there is no evidence linking these attacks with the events of July 2021. The timing of the spree has triggered speculation of a link.
Regardless, the attacks are unnerving in a country where crime is estimated to cost the economy up to R1-trillion a year.
The vital mining sector and other industries are already burdened by the ongoing woes of state-run rail provider Transnet, which is costing tens of billions of rand a year annually in lost commodity exports. This had added to the economic importance of South Africa’s trucking industry, dramatically raising the stakes on key roads. DM