Truck driver protests threaten planting, exports

Truck drivers have started a protest on the N3 highway near Harrismith. The protest has been causing extensive traffic backlogs between Montrose and Harrismith, as well as delays northbound towards Gauteng at Tugela Plaza. Photo: Supplied/ Jack Armour

Truck drivers staged a protest on the N3 highway near Harrismith yesterday. The protest has caused extensive traffic backlogs between Montrose and Harrismith, as well as delays northbound towards Gauteng at Tugela Plaza. Photo: Supplied/Jack Armour

Leaders in the agricultural sector say that an ongoing protest and blocking of the N3 highway will have dire consequences for the industry. Agricultural products such as milk, equipment, seed, fertiliser and chemical stock need to be transported along this route to reach farmers in time for planting season.

This comes after truck drivers staged a protest on the N3 highway near Harrismith yesterday, which has caused extensive traffic backlogs on the road to Montrose, as well as delays northbound towards Gauteng at Tugela Plaza.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Motantsi Makhele confirmed that around 30 truck drivers had parked their trucks on the N3, “closing the road totally”. They were demanding to see transport minister Fikile Mbalula about foreign truck drivers in the country.

All lanes were reportedly reopened this morning (Wednesday, 27 October 2021).

ALSO READ: N3 closures may hold security risk for food transporters

Fertiliser stocks a big worry

Christo van der Rheede, executive director of Agri SA, says 30 people cannot be allowed to abuse the privilege to protest and bring the entire country to a standstill.

“When they have issues, they have to take it up with the department of labour,” says Van der Rheede.

Christo van der Rheede, Agri SA executive director. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

He says the agricultural sector has already been massively impacted earlier this year when trucks were set alight at Mooi River and the sector can do without more such situations.

“We are against the abuse of privilege and we are urging the police to track down all the perpetrators.”

The citrus industry will fortunately not be impacted by this protest since their export season is over, says Van der Rheede. The grain industry is still in its export season, however, and there are other agricultural products that need to be exported.

“The big worry is the fertiliser stocks as well as the chemical stocks that we normally import, which must get to farmers as soon as possible.

“Farmers are busy preparing the land for planting for the summer crop season and obviously the people need all types of products and tools and equipment for agricultural purposes and we cannot have these types of disruptions.”  

Protest has dire consequences for dairy industry

Colin Wellbeloved, Milk Producers’ Organisation chairman and farmer, says an ongoing blocking of the N3 will certainly have negative consequences for the dairy industry as they have to move about a million litres of raw milk per day from KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng.

Dr Jack Armour, commercial manager of Free State Agriculture. Photo: Supplied/FSA

“We will have no choice but to use alternative routes where possible as milk cannot be stored for too long and it is produced 24/7. We need full tankers to leave KZN and empty ones to come back from the reef to keep the supply chain moving.”

Wellbeloved says even though this will be “uncomfortable” for KwaZulu-Natal, fortunately they do have some world-class processing facilities and contingencies in place. The risk of “spoiling some high-quality nourishment is very high at the moment, so let’s hope that this matter is solved urgently,” he told Food For Mzansi at the time of the protest.

Jack Armour, operations manager at Free State Agriculture (FSA), echoes other experts, saying that the N3 is a critical route for exports from the interior as well as for imports of seed, fertiliser, pesticides and fuel from the Durban refinery. Any disruptions will interrupt the critical time for planting, currently underway.

“We as a country have to get out of our economic crisis and we have to strive for productivity and efficiency. If [people of] other nationalities can and will do the job within the laws of our country, then we allow [it],” he says.

‘Continual attack on supply chain must be stopped’

Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association (RFA). Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Gavin Kelly, chief executive officer of the Road Freight Association (RFA), says that the association calls on the ministers of police and transport to utilise their peace officers to ensure that public roads remain open and free to use for all citizens, including the vehicles operated by freight and logistics companies.

“The continual attack on the logistics supply chain, and the wilful disregard by sectors who continue to drive agendas outside the Collective Bargaining structure, or to further their grievances by attacking the law-abiding citizenry, must be brought to a stop. Immediately.”

Kelly reveals that government has promised to resolve the matter of illegal foreigners (in whatever industry) for a number of years, but has not done what was promised.

“Transporters (freight operators) who abide by the Collective Agreement signed with the representatives of truck drivers [unions] are targeted time and again without reason. This must stop now.”

ALSO READ: Mooi River Toll Plaza is ‘catalyst for unrest’ – Kwanalu

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