Looming Problems for SA Road Transport


The Labour Act & Immigration Act require non-South African citizens wishing to work in  S.A. to be in possession of a work permit or proof of application for a work permit.

Large numbers of Zimbabweans and other nationalities, have been assimilated into almost every area of the economy of South Africa by applying for work on the basis of temporary refugee permits. One area of employment that has proved to be beneficial to industry and attractive to Zimbabweans and other foreigners is employment as truck drivers.

Foreign truck drivers are required, in terms of the Immigration Act, to have work permits whether the vehicle is registered in South Africa or any other country, but for a number of years foreign drivers have been allowed to work in S.A on a visitor’s visa.

In a sudden about-face in 2010, illegal Zimbabweans resident in South Africa were given a deadline by the Department of Home Affairs of 31st December 2010, to apply for documents to legalise their stay in the country, or face arrest and deportation.

This has serious consequences for employers in that Section S49 (3 of the Immigration Act states that; “Anyone who knowingly employs an illegal foreigner or a foreigner in violation of this Act shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment not exceeding one year, provided that such person’s second conviction of such an offence shall be punishable by imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine, and the third or subsequent convictions of such offences by imprisonment not exceeding three years without the option of a fine”.

Home Affairs DG Mkuseli Apleni reported in December that more than 260,000 applications had been received at the 42 Department of Home Affairs (DHA) offices across the country. The DHA Communications Manager Ricky Naidoo revealed that the rate of progress made it impossible for the department to process all applications by the deadlines, as only about 48.000 applications had been processed, with more than 38,000 being approved, but about 6000 applications rejected.

The implications of the ban, for the South African transport industry are likely to prove just as alarming as they are for the “illegal” immigrants, as revealed by a survey conducted by the Durban Harbour Carriers Association (DHCA). The survey of 36 companies drew a response covering 348 drivers of vehicles in the container handling businesses around the port of Durban.

The survey found that 30% of drivers (106:348) were foreigners and all were employed whilst in possession of refugee status work permits. This entitled them to seek employment subject to review at intervals of 3-6 months, dependent on the circumstances. It was noted that the companies that did not respond to the DHCA questionnaire tend to have higher proportions of foreign drivers – many of whom might not be entitled to seek employment as they are illegal immigrants. Most companies were doing everything possible to assist their drivers to become legal.

Analysis of the container movements in Durban showed that of the approximately 3000 container movements per day over 1000 were being performed by foreign drivers. The survey showed that approximately 65% of containers in and out of Durban Container Terminal (DCT) are collected or consigned to points within KwaZulu Natal by road. The DHCA estimates that if all foreign drivers were “grounded” the Durban port would effectively logjam with unmoved containers in less than a month.

When questioned on the high proportion of foreigners and relative availability of South African truck drivers, Kevin Martin of DHCA said that firms in the association continually tested and evaluated SA applicants and found that only 10% or less of applicants were employable, on grounds of their driving performance, past records, inexperience, literacy health or legality of their licences. Members report that all drivers are paid at the same rates as local drivers and fulfil all the same conditions including UIF, WC Act, NBC levies, PAYE etc. If the refugee status is withdrawn, the foreign drivers will become unemployable by law, thereby creating a crisis situation for transport operators and the port logistics industry, comparable in effect to the recent Transnet strike.

The primary employment criteria in the industry is competence to drive, whether applicants are local or foreign, always subject to whether the foreigner can be legally employed. Some members of the DHCA have, at great expense, re-tested all their foreign drivers at local testing centres to obtain S.A. licences in order to prepare for compliance with AARTO and the “point demerit system” and to ensure that foreign drivers were treated the same as local drivers.

There are approximately 330,000 Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) and 100,000 lighter delivery vehicles on South Africa’s roads and it is likely that 70,000- 80,000 of them could be driven by foreigners at the present time. If no solution is devised to the immigration impasse and transport companies cannot use these drivers, there will be significant chaos in many sections of the trucking and logistics industries. The level of concern is reflected in the legal representations that have been made to the courts by cross-border operators.

The need for employment of foreign drivers is the result of at least 30 years of vacillation by the authorities and the transport industry in the development of adequate training facilities and systems to control the training of HGV drivers. There has been an on-going lament that the impact of HIV, lack of control of RTQS, licence corruption, poor management and lack of facilities and equipment all contribute to the serious skills deficiencies and poor standards of South African truck drivers, but little action.

Learning to drive an HGV still takes place on “4 ton mini-trucks” , instructors with minimal commercial driving experience, very few driving schools can afford to use the “real” modern vehicles that are used in the transport industry, there is minimal professional input to the standards required, no “apprenticeship” period, minimal emphasis on the Professional Driving Permit (PrDP) that was supposed to elevate the standards of professional drivers. And then to crown it all, licences can be obtained relatively easily by illegal means.

The major transport companies select rigorously and then spend large sums to train their drivers to handle the sophisticated R 2.0 million rigs that they drive, but for most of the industry, finding competent drivers is likely scratching around in the soup.

As noted by Kevin Martin “The fact that only 10 % of drivers tested by professional transport companies, are actually employable when subjected to practical tests, even though they are in possession of official documents stating that they are competent,  speaks volumes about the state of South African truck driver training and the certification system!”

It is therefore small wonder that we actually need the services of all the competent foreign drivers that we can get. It is also very evident that a brief one or two month moratorium on deportation is not going to have any impact on the real problems facing the South African transport industry.

There is urgent need for professional research and the development of an integrated national  training plan to correct the situation before it gets even worse, and causes further deterioration of driving standards and road safety. The solution requires the creation of quality training establishments with experienced staff, able to supply technical training to suit the needs of commercial transporters.


Nick Porée

SAFTI – Durban 10-01-2011