Xenophobic Violence Raises Danger for Cargo Truck Drivers in South Africa

Published on September 17, 2019 by SCREEN Intelligence Team

The risk of cargo theft, hijacking, and violence against transporters is not new to South Africa. This year, BSI has noted an increased danger to cargo truck drivers in South Africa due to ongoing xenophobic violence against foreigners, specifically foreign truck drivers hailing from other nearby nations such as Zimbabwe. Attacks on foreign vendors and foreign-owned businesses in Cape Town and Johannesburg continue to take place, with roads barricaded and transportation paralyzed in some areas due to the violence. The targeting of foreign truck drivers has been escalating as well and is becoming increasingly organized. The All Truck Drivers Foundation, a national association of South African truck drivers, has made statements calling for demonstrations against the employment of foreign truck drivers. Supply chains operating within and through South Africa should be extraordinarily vigilant in their protection of truck drivers in the country while government struggles to effectively respond.

Recently, multiple deadly attacks against foreign-owned businesses in Pretoria and Johannesburg resulted in at least one fatality, numerous injuries, a slew of arrests, and thousands of dollars in property damage. The violence escalated to the point where Nigeria is repatriating hundreds of its citizens over fear of continued exposure to xenophobic attacks. Over the past few months, BSI has recorded several attacks on trucks operating in South Africa. Earlier this summer, criminals set several commercial trucks ablaze in KwaZulu-Natal, with one instance involving 17 trucks burnt on the N3 Highway. A private investigation firm told media outlets that at one point there were 30-40 investigations per month of attacks on trucks in South Africa. A representative from the Road Freight Association (RFA), an industry body, noted that 213 people have been killed in the various attacks on truckers and security personnel since March 2018. The RFA additionally posited these attacks as detrimental to the broader South African economy, costing the country R1.2 billion ($81,888,600 USD) in destroyed cargo trucks and transport delays.

Media reports over the summer highlighted attacks on truck drivers as targeted against foreign nationals. In late June, one attack involved the killing of two Zimbabwean truck drivers and resulted in cross-border truck drivers blocking the Zimbabwe-side of the border at Beitbridge in protest. Currently, there is no major effort underway by the government of South Africa to curtail such attacks on truck drivers and the violence seems to be becoming increasingly organized.

In late August, the Zambia High Commission in South Africa issued a travel alert to Zambian truck drivers, warning them not to travel through South Africa on certain dates due to an increased risk of violence. Around the same time period, the All Truck Drivers Foundation issued calls for South African truck drivers to engage in a nationwide work stoppage in response to the hiring of foreign nationals, many of which are Zambian. The group engaged in a protest action in Lowveld that involved detaining trucks by forcing the drivers to pull over into a lot and provide documents to verify the ethnicities of drivers. The organization continues to threaten further actions throughout September, including blockades of ports of entry in eastern South Africa in protest of several grievances, one of which is the employment of foreign nationals by trucking companies in the country.

Although the recent xenophobia has become a somewhat new motive driving attacks on the supply chain, the propensity for violence directed toward cargo trucks is not a new phenomenon. The country ranks among the top countries in the world for BSI in forecasted losses due to cargo theft. Most recorded cargo theft incidents are hijackings of loaded trucks that often involve violence against the driver, as well as any security escort personnel. This year, BSI recorded several instances of hijackings in Johannesburg and throughout KwaZulu-Natal, with the N1 Highway running from Durban to Johannesburg remaining one of the single highest-risk roadways for hijackings in South Africa. Although violent robberies still frequently plague warehouses in South Africa, the trucking modality is consistently the most targeted for cargo thefts.