Broken jaw, broken nose, skin burnt off: foreign truck drivers’ nightmare in SA

The N3, the main route between Johannesburg and Durban, where protesters have burnt trucks.
The N3, the main route between Johannesburg and Durban, where protesters have burnt trucks.
Image: SUPPLIED

“One of them, who had a pistol in his hand, ordered me to tip all the coal in my truck on to the road and to leave the truck and go back to Zimbabwe. I tipped over the coal and ran away.”

This is how a foreign truck driver described his terrifying ordeal at the hands of a mob that forced him to stop in Witbank, Mpumalanga. “They demanded to see my licence, shouting that all foreign drivers must fall.”

Human Rights Watch said in a report on Monday, citing estimates by SA’s Road Freight Association (RFA), that more than 200 people, mostly foreign truck drivers, had been killed in such incidents the country since March 2018.

“South African authorities should urgently intervene to stop the unlawful, unprovoked, and violent attacks and harassment of foreign truck drivers and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Any problems in the trucking industry, including undocumented drivers, are for the relevant authorities to address, and there is no defence to groups committing such violent, horrific crimes.”

Human Rights Watch said foreign truck drivers were victims of violence, intimidation and harassment in a cycle of what it called xenophobic violence.

A foreign truck driver in hospital after his truck was petrol bombed in Durban while he slept.
A foreign truck driver in hospital after his truck was petrol bombed in Durban while he slept.
Image: Human Rights Watch

“Groups of people claiming to be South African truck drivers have thrown gasoline bombs at trucks and shot at, stoned, stabbed, and harassed foreign truck drivers to force them out of the trucking industry. Many foreign truck drivers have lost their jobs, despite having valid work permits, or have been unable to return to work due to injuries or damage to their trucks,” said Human Rights Watch.

Read the full report here.

In June and July, the organisation, which investigates and reports on abuses around the globe, conducted 35 interviews with foreign and South African truck drivers, a lawyer, the minister of home affairs and activists in Johannesburg, Witbank, Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

Leaders of the All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF), an association of local truck drivers, told Human Rights Watch they opposed companies hiring undocumented foreign truck drivers. However, 18 of 23 foreign drivers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had valid SA work permits.

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi told Human Rights Watch he was aware that attacks on truck drivers and their vehicles had spread from Durban to Mpumalanga. Though there was a home affairs directive allowing foreign truck drivers to work in SA on a visitor’s permit, he said some employers hired foreign truck drivers without following the relevant government policy.

Human Rights Watch shared chilling interviews with drivers who had been targeted. They included:

• On June 23, a group of armed men claiming to be ATDF members targeted truck drivers in Ermelo, Mpumalanga, threatening to kill five drivers, forcing them to flee and abandon their trucks. One of them, a Malawian, said he was stopped and ordered to hand over the keys or die on the spot. “No foreigners on our trucks. All foreign truck drivers must fall,” he was told. He called the truck owner for help and hid away. A local driver was sent to retrieve the vehicle.

• On June 16, a Malawian driver was stopped on the N3 highway, about 150km from Durban, on the road to Johannesburg. He was ordered to call his employer to say he was resigning and that the company should not employ foreigners. He complied. He was ordered to leave the truck and return to his country.

• On May 18, on the N3 at Mooi River, a Zimbabwean driver was injured by stones that shattered the windshield, forcing him to stop. He was told the truck was attacked because the company hired foreign drivers. He sustained serious facial injuries, including a broken jaw, split lips and a broken nose. He was dismissed by the company for being negligent.

• On April 27, a Zimbabwean driver asleep in his truck at the Durban port was petrol bombed. He escaped, but was severely burnt, losing movement in one arm, where his shirt got stuck to his body in the fire. Speaking from hospital on June 29, he said he had been unable to speak for three days after the attack. He had not heard feedback from police since giving a statement. Due to his injuries, he may not be able to work again. His asylum documents, driver’s permit and passport were burnt in the truck.

-TimesLIVE

A map of locations where Human Rights Watch documented attacks on foreign truck drivers in SA.
A map of locations where Human Rights Watch documented attacks on foreign truck drivers in SA.
Image: Human Rights Watch
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