Durban – A KwaZulu-Natal truck driver was shot in the thigh and another had a petrol bomb thrown at his vehicle on Tuesday despite some unions deciding to end the three-week long strike by freight workers. Metro police in Durban are also on the lookout for any acts of violence and intimidation after three unions representing 15 000 drivers, decided to return to work on Wednesday.
There have been about 70 incidents of violence – including of cars and trucks being burnt or stoned and drivers hurt – reported across the country, according to the Road Freight Association’s website. On Tuesday night, a driver was shot on the N3 near Cato Ridge. He was on his way to Johannesburg. Bleeding heavily, but afraid to stop, the man drove to Camperdown police station for help. ER24 paramedics went to the police station and took the man to Hillcrest private hospital where he underwent emergency surgery last night, spokesman Derrick Banks said. “The driver is in a serious but stable condition,” Banks said. On the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast near Zinkwazi, a freight truck was petrol bombed in the early hours of yesterday, exactly a week after another freight truck came under a similar attack on the N3 near Tweedie, said Road Traffic Inspectorate spokeswoman, Zinhle Mngomezulu. In the Western Cape, a truck driver is fighting for his life after he was doused with petrol and set alight in Manenberg. IN KZN, the SAPS and metro police have been monitoring hot spots, including the Pinetown industrial area, Richmond Road and the Durban Harbour, since the start of the strike. Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi said police were aware that some unions had pulled out of the strike and were watching for any incidents of intimidation.
“We are on high alert and have dispatched specialised units to the harbour and to Richmond Road [near Pinetown].” He said the dog, public order policing and crime prevention units were all on patrol. The SAPS, however, would not reveal the extent of the strike-related violence in KZN. According to media reports, several truck drivers had been injured after coming under attack by protesters over the past two weeks. In Pinetown, one driver had sustained a skull fracture on September 27 and was in the ICU at St Augustine’s Hospital.
On the same day, another truck driver was injured on the head, arm and face in Maydon Wharf. Nationally, there have been further reports of injuries. Cape Town truck driver Gary Stewart died yesterday when his family decided to switch off his life support. He was declared brain dead on Sunday. The 41-year-old had sustained a fractured skull and severe brain damage when he was hit by a stone thrown on the N2 in Cape Town last Wednesday. Gauteng also had reports of trucks and drivers being hit with stones, and of trucks and cars being torched.
About 20 000 truck drivers had been on strike for a 12 percent pay rise, while employers were offering 8.5 percent for next year, and another 0.5 percent in 2014. Wage talks have been continuing. Yesterday, the Road Freight Employers Association said three unions, jointly representing about 15 000 employees (including drivers), have suspended the strike. The Transport and Allied Workers Union, the Professional Transport Workers Union and the Motor Transport Workers Union have indicated their commitment to further negotiations, the association said. However, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union is still on strike.
Until the strike ends, the Road Freight Association is warning its members to avoid certain areas in KZN – Richards Bay, Pinetown, uMlazi, Peacevale near Pietermaritzburg, Solomon Mahlangu (Edwin Swales VC) Drive, the Bluff and Pinetown. The association has detailed on its website incidents of protests that had turned violent, including of trucks and cars being petrol bombed. A local transport operator, Rakesh Prenchand, said three of his trucks had been damaged in the past two weeks, leaving him with repair bills amounting to R1.5 million. One was stoned in the vicinity of Pinetown/New Germany, he said. The driver escaped unharmed.
Another of his trucks crashed after being attacked at Maydon Wharf and its driver was injured on the head, arm and face. Prenchand said the third incident was last Thursday, when one of his trucks was travelling back from Johannesburg. A protester threw a petrol bomb at the vehicle, setting it alight, he said. The driver managed to escape after detaching the horse from the trailer. Last Thursday, Julie Hill, a female contractor for a national distribution company, was in her bakkie a kilometre away from the company’s depot when five men threw bricks at her vehicle.
“I saw five men sitting underneath a tree and as I drove past, I saw one of them raise his arm and I saw a brick coming at me.” Hill said her window was open at the time. “I ducked immediately, but the brick caught me on the shoulder, hit the bakkie roof and then smashed through the passenger side window,” she said. “Another guy threw a brick that hit my door. “Another threw a rock at my windscreen and as I drove past, another threw a brick that hit my tail lights. It all sounded like gunshots going off.”
Hill said she could not see too clearly through the windscreen, but knew the road well and managed to drive off and stop later at Richmond Road to drop off her colleague who was in the bakkie with her. “My shoulder felt like a hot poker went through it,” she said. “I managed to keep left and get on to the M13 and turned off at the Kloof off-ramp. I drove to my doctor. I had to get six stitches and a tetanus injection. “It was quite a scary experience. I felt so powerless,” Hill said, adding that she had heard that another driver had had a similar incident. “I don’t travel on that road anymore.”