, 30 November, 2020 / 5:55 PM
Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) are appealing for an end to violence in South Africa in the wake of several arson attacks that are targeting trucks driven by foreign nationals in the country.
Several trucks reportedly driven by foreign nationals working in South Africa have been set ablaze or vandalized on different roads in the country in the past two weeks. Some drivers have also been reportedly killed or injured.
South Africa’s Freight News reported on Wednesday, November 25 that 30 trucks had already been set on fire in just a week. Arrests have so far been made in Johannesburg and Pretoria in connection to the vandalism.
Following these reports, SACBC members have called on the South African government to act speedily to bring all those who were involved in the arson to book.
“The Catholic bishops strongly condemn the recent torching of trucks and violent assault on foreign drivers,” they say in their collective statement shared with ACI Africa Sunday, November 29.
They add, “We call on the government intelligence to urgently investigate who is behind the attacks and ensure that perpetrators are quickly brought to justice.”
The government intelligence “should particularly investigate if there is involvement of syndicates, economic sabotage, which have taken advantage of the grievances and concerns of the local drivers,” SACBC members say in the statement signed by Bishop Victor Phalana, the Chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission of the three-nation Bishops' Conference.
They note that South Africa’s All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF) that unites all truck drivers in the country had denied any involvement in the arson attacks.
Also, “given that nobody has taken direct responsibility for the attacks”, the Bishops call upon the government to find people who were involved in the attacks.
“Given the dire situation in our economy, this is not a time for economic sabotage and blind pursuit of fractional interests at the expense of the common good. It is a time to work together to rebuild our economy for the benefit of job creation for the poor,” the Bishops say in their November 29 message.
They go on to “make a strong appeal to those involved in the attacks to stop what they are doing and prioritize the public good of our nation. We say to you, no more assault and killing of truck drivers. No more torching of trucks,”
The Church leaders further say that in South Africa, the road freight industry is critical for economic recovery and job creation.
“A serious disruption of such an industry has therefore far reaching consequences for our nation, including a substantial damage to an already fragile economy which is clearly struggling to recover from adverse effects of COVID-19,” they say.
On November 23, hundreds of protesters claiming to be from the ATDF reportedly protested against the hiring of foreign nationals as truck drivers yet locals have no jobs.
The ATDF issued an ultimatum calling on foreign truck drivers to stop their jobs by December 1 or the companies employing them would face disruptions.
In an interview with South Africa’s local media, however, the group denied they were behind the burning of trucks.
The country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the attacks and said he was deeply concerned about the effect of the violence on owners and employees of the affected trucking companies as well as the economic disruption caused by the acts “just as the country is focused on rebuilding the economy post-COVID-19.”
“As South Africans, we cannot possibly tolerate the mindless and bloody lawlessness with which the road freight industry is being targeted,” President Ramaphosa said, and added, “We cannot tolerate this loss of life and destruction of property.”
The President further said he has directed the country’s Minister of Employment and Labour and the Ministers of Transport, Home Affairs and Police to submit a report to him on the ongoing grievances in the freight industry.
According to the members of SACBC, the current situation in South Africa’s freight industry “is not a new problem.”
They say that the volatile situation in South Africa’s road freight industry, which is linked to the concerns of the local drivers, has been going on for more than 18 months.
“It is clear that the recent establishment of an inter-ministerial task team has not resolved the impasse,” the Bishops say in their November 29 statement.
They add, “We therefore make a strong appeal to the president and the inter-ministerial task team to take the country into its trust and explain the lack of progress in addressing the concerns of local drivers.”
Lack of regular communication on the part of the inter-ministerial task, SACBC members say, creates an impression, especially on the local drivers, that the government is not serious about their concerns.
“We also ask the parliament to be more proactive and consistent in demanding answers and accountability from the inter-ministerial task team. It should not do its oversight function on this matter only when the situation escalates to arson attacks and death of a truck driver,” they say.
The Bishops are concerned that drivers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), an intergovernmental organization for 16 Southern African countries, are threatening to join the violence.
“We have also noted with sadness that the SADC cross-border driver association has signaled its intention to retaliate if the attacks on its drivers continue with impunity,” the Catholic Church leaders say, and appeal to SADC members to exercise restraint, to refrain from retaliation and to consider peaceful resolution of the problem.
SACBC members caution that an all-out war in the road freight industry would only inflict further harm to a regional economy, which they say, is already in deep trouble.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa