Road Freight Association boss has ‘zero’ confidence police will stop truck burnings
Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association, has no confidence in the capacity of the police to address the latest spate of arson attacks on trucks.
On Wednesday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said during a media briefing on the recent spate of arson attacks on trucks that: “We have a capable state that has learnt from the past.”
Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association, which has 500 members ranging from small family businesses to South Africa’s largest trucking companies, sees no evidence that the police arm of the state is up to the task of addressing the latest attacks that have seen more than 20 trucks torched in KZN, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
“Zero,” was his blunt reply when Daily Maverick asked him on Thursday if he had any confidence in the police on this front.
“This phenomenon has been around for six years or so. There have been some years that it’s been really bad and others when it’s been quiet. And we’ve had drivers over the years who have been killed… they’ve been burnt, they’ve been seriously injured,” Kelly said.
‘Not one court case’
“And we haven’t seen one, not one, court case where those who perpetrated this sort of thing were brought to book. Haven’t seen one. If these are all happening in the dark, in night court, we don’t know about them.”
Cele claimed on Wednesday that 67 people were currently before the courts on charges related to the July 2021 riots that killed more than 350 people and caused damage amounting to about R50-billion. He also said that since 2018, there have been 107 incidents of truck burnings in KZN, but gave no details about arrests linked to these cases.
SAPS had not responded to our queries on this issue by the time we went to press.
Kelly also noted that Cele said the police had suspects in their sights, with a dozen “persons of interest” identified. As we went to press, no statements had been made on arrests.
“The minister makes this statement, ‘We know who’s behind this, we know who they are’. Um, well, why haven’t you dealt with them? Why haven’t you got hold of them before they started this? Where’s your intelligence… where’s your proactive policing?”
“Or do you only know them now because the sector itself, its security systems, are beginning to identify suspects,” he said, referring to a viral dash-cam video clearly showing the face of an arsonist involved in one of the Mpumalanga attacks,” Kelly said.
“All of this instils absolutely zero confidence in any sort of capacity and ability of the SAPS to use intelligence and to apprehend the perpetrators.”
Kelly is the latest in a string of senior, private sector executives to make biting comments about South Africa’s failing state.
Government and business last month seemed to bury the hatchet to partner on work-streams to address the key obstacles to investment and economic growth, including tackling the crime colossus that is estimated to cost the economy up to R1-trillion a year.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Business and government’s master plan to rid South Africa of its R1-trillion crime and corruption headache
But many businesses remain frustrated with the lack of law and order and the rash of truck braais in recent days underlines this worrying trend.
Kelly reiterated comments he made in public this week, pointing a finger at the All Truck Drivers Forum (ATDF), suggesting that the attacks are about foreign drivers and wider grievances about working conditions. The police have downplayed this as a motive and the ATDF has denied any connection in statements and on social media.
It is also worth noting that while the brazen burnings over the past week have made headlines, attacks and hijacking of trucks are hardly rare on South Africa’s dangerous roads.
“There are high incidents of crime and hijacking. There are syndicates that operate with absolute precision around looting trucks and hijacking trucks. It’s a regular scourge and a major concern. We’ve had some breakthroughs, but it’s like an octopus – you chop off one tentacle and another one emerges,” Kelly said.
Truck hijackings have indeed been a common feature of social delivery protests and intimidation tactics employed by procurement mafias to disrupt mining operations on the eastern limb of the platinum belt that straddles Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Fear, loathing and extortion on the eastern limb of South Africa’s platinum belt
But mining companies such as Northam Platinum have reported improvements in policing and security in the area over the past few months – a template for cooperation for the bigger business/government partnership announced last month – and so it is of concern that one of the recent incidents involved chrome trucks in the area.
Cele said on Wednesday that those attacks appeared to be linked to “an ongoing labour dispute and service delivery issues”. That might signal renewed tensions in an area that has been a flashpoint of labour and social unrest over the years.
One area Kelly agrees with the police minister on is the dearth of evidence linking the latest wave of arson events to the July riots of two years ago.
“It’s absolutely different… that was a different thing based on hitting warehouses. None of these recent vehicles that have been burnt has been looted,” Kelly said.
Meanwhile, the industry and the police are braced for the possibility of more attacks.
If this latest wave spreads, it will be another blow to an economy that has already been battered by crime, power shortages, a decaying rail network, a cost-of-living crisis and a host of other challenges that have shattered investor confidence.
South Africa needs trucks to move goods safely from point A to point B. Things will fall apart without them. DM