SANDF deployed to safeguard transportation after truck arson

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The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been deployed across four provinces to help the South African Police Service (SAPS) safeguard transportation routes and vehicles following the torching of nearly two dozen trucks in the last week.

Department of Defence Head of Communication Siphiwe Dlamini in a statement confirmed the deployment in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Free State.

Soldiers have been sent to multiple high risk areas, including the N3 toll gates at Mooi River and Marianhill. This after 21 trucks ferrying goods were burned in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo since Sunday 9 July.

Police Minister Bheki Cele on Wednesday said that law enforcement was hot on the heels of 12 people possibly linked to the recent torching of trucks on national roads.

“These are organised and sophisticated operations. They are organised in one centre in the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal and dispersed in different groups to do these things,” the Minister said, adding that the coordinator has been identified.

One of the ringleaders was apparently arrested on Thursday, while on Friday, the SAPS confirmed that a third suspect had been arrested. All three suspects are expected to appear in court on Monday.

Nine trucks have been burnt both in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal respectively, while three suffered the same fate in Limpopo.

“We want to make it very clear that to date, there have been no targets on trucks in the Free State and Gauteng provinces,” Cele said.

The Police Ministry, according to Cele, has recently concluded a high-level meeting with Provincial Commissioners of KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga, led by the National Police Commissioner, General Fannie Masemola.

“We have found it necessary to apprise the nation of these criminal operations and outline the response of law enforcement to the isolated and cowardice acts.

“Whether it is economic sabotage, labour or service delivery related disputes – police are closing in on those who choose to use violence and intimidation for whatever motive.”

Intelligence, Cele said, suggests that the attacks may be business-related and not random acts of criminality.

He believes that the acts of violence seek to undermine and sabotage the State.

He assured citizens that a plan of action from the police is already underway.

“No matter the motive, the country’s law enforcement remains on high alert and is hard at work at preventing more attacks but also finding these individuals or gangs of thugs who are hell-bent on causing havoc on our roads,” he stressed.

Cele said the police have since heightened their visibility and are leaving nothing to chance in all provinces.

“All major routes have been secured and regular patrols are being conducted along identified high risk routes.”

“As things stand, there is no evidence before us to suggest that the recent target on trucks is in any way related or linked to the July insurrection. I wish to take this opportunity to allay any fears that what transpired in July 2021 will repeat itself,” Cele reiterated.

To date, Cele said 67 people have been arrested on 11 cases related to the insurrection and are before the courts, while investigations continue.

The Minister said the police are probing 107 cases in KwaZulu-Natal related to the torching of trucks since 2018.

“We have a capable State that has learnt from the past. The security apparatus is working in unison and the security cluster is in a better state to respond to any eventuality.”

Cele emphasised that the police are working with speed and closely together to bring a stop to these organised crimes and secure arrests.

The deployment of the SANDF to deal with truck arson was encouraged by agricultural advocacy organisation Agri SA, which said the attacks are a direct assault on the South African economy and a risk to food security.

“In its dire economic situation, South Africa simply cannot afford to surrender vital export revenue to uncontrolled criminal activity,” Agri SA said.

However, African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier believes the deployment of the SANDF is a bad idea. “The SANDF is already overstretched and every time we use it to replace the SAPS in a task it’s failing in, we degrade the capabilities of both departments and don’t solve root causes. The SANDF is meant to support the SAPS in only the rarest circumstances,” he concluded.