The head of the Road Freight Association has "zero" confidence in the police

The head of the Road Freight Association has “zero” confidence in the police

On Wednesday, Police Minister Becky Seeley said during a briefing on the recent wave of arson attacks on trucks: “We have a capable country that has learned from the past.”

Gavin Kelly, chief executive 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 state’s police arm is up to the task of tackling recent attacks that have seen more set on fire. From 20 trucks in KZN, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

“Zero,” was his candid response when Daily Maverick Thursday asked him if he had any confidence in the police on that front.

This phenomenon has been around for six years or so. There were some years when it was really bad and others when it was quiet. “Drivers have been killed over the years…they’ve been burnt, they’ve had serious injuries,” Kelly said.

Not a single court case

And we have not seen one case, not one, where those who committed this sort of thing were brought to trial. I haven’t seen one. If all this happens in the dark, in the Night Court, then we don’t know anything about it.

Seely alleged on Wednesday that 67 people are currently in court on charges related to the events of July 2021 that claimed more than 350 lives and caused around R50 billion in damages. He also said that since 2018, there have been 107 truck arson incidents in KZN, but did not give details about the arrests associated with these cases.

SAPS had not responded to our inquiries regarding the matter by the time we went to press.

Kelly also noted that Seely said police had suspects in sight, with dozens of “people of interest” identified. As we went to the press, no statements were made regarding the arrests.

“The Minister makes this statement ‘We know who’s behind this, we know who they are’. Well, why didn’t you engage with them? Why didn’t you get them before they started with this? Where is your intelligence… Where is your pre-emptive police?”

“Or do you only know them now because the sector itself, and its security systems, have begun to identify suspects,” he said, referring to a viral video that clearly shows the face of one of the arsonists involved in one of the Mpumalanga attacks, Kelly said.

“All of this does not give absolute confidence in any kind of capacity and ability of SAPS to use intelligence and apprehend the perpetrators.”

Kelly is the latest in a series of senior private sector executives making scathing comments about the failed state of South Africa.

Last month government and business appeared to have buried the hatchet to partner on courses of action to address major obstacles to investment and economic growth, including tackling gigantic crime estimated to cost the economy up to a trillion rand annually.

Read more at The Daily Maverick: The corporate and government master plan to rid South Africa of the trillion rand headache of crime and corruption

But many companies are still frustrated by the lack of law and order, and the shedding of the trucking series in recent days confirms this alarming trend.

Kelly reiterated comments he made publicly this week, pointing his finger at the All Truck Drivers Forum (ATDF), suggesting the attacks related to foreign drivers and broader grievances about working conditions. Police have played down this as a motive, and the League for Defense of Democracy has denied any connection in statements and on social media.

It should also be noted that while brazen fires over the past week have made headlines, attacks and truck hijackings are rare on South Africa’s dangerous roads.

“There are high incidences of crime and kidnapping. There are gangs that work with absolute precision around looting trucks and kidnapping trucks. It’s a regular disaster and a huge concern. We’ve had some hacks, but it’s like an octopus — you cut off one tentacle and another emerges,” Kelly said.

Truck hijackings have already been a common feature of social delivery protests and the intimidation tactics used by buying gangs to disrupt mining operations on the eastern end of the platinum belt that straddles the Limpopo and Mpumalanga sides.

Read more at The Daily Maverick: Fear, Loathing and Extortion are on the eastern end of South Africa’s Platinum Belt

But miners like Northam Platinum have reported improvements in policing and security in the area over the past few months — a collaboration model for the largest business/government partnership announced last month — and so it’s concerning that one of the recent incidents involved chrome trucks in the area.

Seely said on Wednesday that the attacks appeared to be linked to an “ongoing labor dispute and service delivery issues”. This may indicate renewed tensions in a region that has been a flashpoint for labor and social unrest over the years.

One area the police minister agrees with is the paucity of evidence linking the latest wave of arsonists to the July riots two years ago.

“It’s completely different… It was a different thing based on hitting the warehouses. None of these vehicles that were recently burned were looted,” Kelly said.

Meanwhile, industry and the police prepare for the possibility of more attacks.

If this latest wave spreads, it will be another blow to an economy that has already suffered from crime, power shortages, a crumbling 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 it. DM


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