Truckers tell of hunger, fear of attacks, robberies
Cross-border drivers stuck in 40km-long queue
A truck driver who gets paid R650 per load has told of how he has been stuck in traffic heading to the Lebombo border in Mpumalanga with no money to buy food.
The driver, who asked not to be named, is among hundreds of truck drivers who for days have been waiting in a 40 km queue of trucks to cross into Mozambique to deliver goods at the Maputo harbour. This was his sixth load this month.
“Our company pays R650 per load. It’s crazy that I am now stuck here with only one load for almost a week. It’s better to work in people’s gardens, maybe they will pay us better,” said the frustrated driver.
“Due to unemployment, I accepted the job early this year. I think after I get paid the little which will come out of this, I will have to look for a job tha tpays a basic salary.
“Here you have to see that you eat, your bosses send you money but it’s very little. These people (hawkers) increased prices for everything,” The man’s employer could not be reached for comment at the time of going to print.
Some truck drivers said it takes nearly a week to get to the border post. They spoke of their suffering, starvation, dehydration and fear of being attacked and robbed and how they have to relieve themselves in plastic bags inside their trucks and throw them out of the window.
They mostly transport coal, chrome and other minerals destined for various countries across the world via the Maputo harbour. The drivers said they are battling hard conditions, including the scorching heat as temperatures reach highs of 40°C during the current heat wave hitting SA.
Sipho Makubule had been stuck in traffic since last Sunday when Sowetan spoke to him on Thursday and his feet were swollen. It was impossible to jump the line so he could get to a doctor and seek medical attention.
On friday his employer sent a driver to take over the trip so he could see a doctor. “I have been here for four days and I don’t have food or water and have to wait until I reach the garage ahead and ask my family to send me money,” said Makubule.
“Here we are faced with many challenges... at night you have to stay inside the truck. You can’t open air conditioning because the truck is stationary and if you do that, it is a waste of diesel.
“It’s hard just because I want to feed my family, I have to stay here in this hot and dangerous place, sometimes with nothing to eat,” said Makubule.
Mzamo Ngomane, who also spoke to Sowetan on Thursday, said he arrived at the border post on November 17.
“I’m about 40km away from the border but I have no choice. It’s better for me because I have a basic salary. There are those who earn per load. It’s dark, hot and there are no toilets or water here
“I have not seen my family in days and I just wish I can cross to Mozambique because that side you just cruise, there’s no traffic... Why didn’t government build stops where we can all park the trucks and have places to refresh in a secure area?” Ngomane asked.
“It’s sad but we want to put bread on the table at home and our employers are losing a lot of money because of the delay.
“I know it’s wrong to relax under a stationary truck but there’s nowhere else I can go. I can’t go into the bushes to relax under a shade because the line might move and drivers would jump my truck and I’ll be left behind. I last moved at 4am,” said Ngomane at around noon.Yesterday morning, he told Sowetan he was about to cross the border.
Jabu Gama also sat under his truck and said he wished border management could indicate what the problem was.
“If you can look at Richards Bay and Durban, there are truck stops where drivers safely wait for their time to leave but here we are in the bushes,” said Gama.
Skumbuzo Vilakazi, who is transporting chrome from Brits in the North West, said he last saw his family last month but hopes to go home soon. He was speaking to Sowetano n Wednesday.
“I left the mine four days ago. I’m close [to the border] now. What is happening is painful because we are suffering. Our families need us but there’s no way I can leave the load here and go anywhere,” said Vilakazi.
Provincial police spokesperson Brig Selvy Mohlala said there were a number of cases being investigated.
“I can confirm that indeed there are many cases registered at Komatipoort police station by the truckers since the beginning of the financial year. So far the categories which were registered are theft out of motor vehicles, common assault, assault GBH and robbery with a firearm.
“Nine suspects were arrested for the period under review. Police will continue to conduct investigations and advise motorists to report any crime they encounter during their travel.
“We are trying by all means to be visible at the area to try and help in the protection of truck drivers. However, one would understand there are many areas where the police are needed and we ration our involvement... but there are always officers at the border, and Komatipoort police station is closer hence motorists can always liaise with the station,” said Mohlala.
■ newsdesk@sowetan .co.za
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