After the Bell: Truck braais and the social compact
One of the most curious things about the recent spate of truck attacks is that it’s so difficult to understand what the perpetrators think they will gain from them. The explanations that have been provided have been hedged and suppositional. And yet, so far, 20 trucks have been torched over the past few weeks. Surely there is some discernible motive?
Police Minister Bheki Cele said that his intelligence suggests the attacks on trucks may be business-related rather than random acts of criminality. Okay, but what does that mean? Is he suggesting that truckers from one organisation are trying to take out members of another organisation? If so, which?
Evidence pointed to coordinated and sophisticated operations that seek to undermine and sabotage the state, he said. Now it’s getting more confusing. So the acts are treasonous? But Cele quickly goes on to say that there is nothing to link these incidents to the July riots two years ago.
This is obvious in the sense that the attacks are not aimed at looting. None of the trucks was looted, they were all just burnt to a crisp. But it is the allegation of the security services that some aspects of the July riots were aimed at state sabotage, hence the echoes in Cele’s comments. I guess that Cele is just trying to talk up the nature of the crime to garner public support — but who knows?
Well, what about the Road Freight Association — surely they have a sense of motive? Gavin Kelly, the CEO of the association, has suggested the attacks are about foreign drivers and wider grievances about working conditions. He has pointed a finger at the All Truck Drivers’ Forum, which has denied any connection in statements and on social media — as they would. That’s more specific than the explanation provided by the police, but it’s still a bit vague.
Something else Kelly says suggests a possible motivation. He is very explicit about how much confidence he has that the police can get this under control: “Zero,” he says emphatically. “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,” he told Daily Maverick reporter Ed Stoddard.
And therein lies the problem: the sense of what is criminal is not embedded sufficiently in our culture. Burning schools and getting away with it is rampant and, if that is so, what is wrong with burning trucks?
In some ways, the criminal justice system should be the last resort in propagating a system of social norms. It’s a harsh system, but socially that’s how it should work. But in SA, that system has been undermined by two things: corruption at the national level, which I suspect encourages a general lack of accountability; and a lack of effective policing at the local level. Gradually, the forces of chaos are taking over, and the result is a social tragedy.
I suspect the truck burnings are taking place at least partly for the most obvious reason: because there are no consequences as a result of the action. And, in that sense, they are a microcosm of the larger problem of SA criminality. DM