In South Africa, a series of xenophobic attacks against lorry drivers

Par ediallo - 11 December, 2020 - 20:45

Every Friday, the "Vu du monde" column looks at an emerging country. This Friday, South Africa, where a wave of violence is hitting the trucking industry.

On the evening of 23 November, the South African police receive a call on their hotline. A truck is on fire on a national road in Leondale, a south-eastern suburb of Johannesburg.

When the police arrived on the scene, they found the two drivers, who were from Zambia, on the roadside, hit by several bullets and bleeding profusely. One of them died before help arrived.

Across South Africa, in recent weeks, dozens of trucks have been set on fire with a molotov cocktail, cargoes looted, drivers injured and killed in a strange wave of particularly brutal attacks. The road transport industry is "in a state of siege", according to the South African press.

Competition around the roads

The president, Cyril Ramaphosa, condemned the "anarchic, senseless and bloody" attacks, which endanger the process of economic recovery, seriously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the long containment it has caused.

While no one claims responsibility for the violence, many suspect xenophobic acts. The vast majority of victims are foreign African drivers.

South Africa, the continent's second largest economy, is a point of attraction for migrants from neighbouring Lesotho, Mozambique or Zimbabwe in search of work.

Volatility in the trucking industry and competition on some roads is not new. And foreign drivers are the first victims.

In a report published last year, Human Rights Watch, citing a truck owners' association, estimates that about 200 truck owners lost their lives between March 2018 and July 2019.

Domestic preference, a recurring debate

Truck driver associations accuse companies of preferring to employ foreigners, who cost them less, at the expense of South African drivers.

Demonstrations and strikes have led to the blocking of the country's roads on several occasions this year. Domestic preference is a recurrent, and often aggressive, debate in South Africa. In 2008, sixty-two people were killed in xenophobic riots.

"Desperation breeds populism," notes the online daily Daily Maverick, which points to the nationalist rhetoric of some politicians. "The anarchy we see on our motorways and the wisps of smoke from burning trucks paint a picture of a state in chaos."

But, against a background of xenophobia, the recent attacks also seem to be motivated by a desire to intimidate or even destabilise the sector. Between April and November 2020, at least 84 incidents were recorded.

A situation that is likely to lead to an increase in the price of food and certain commodities at a time when unemployment and poverty are at record levels.

Criticised for its inability to curb the phenomenon, the police have acknowledged a recent increase in these incidents. Some 20 people have been arrested. The possibility of calling in the army as a backup is even being considered.

Patricia Huon