SA coal involved in ‘economic war’ following latest spate of truck attacks

MOST of the trucks attacked on South Africa’s roads during the week were carrying coal to the nation’s harbours, said Bloomberg News.

Citing police minister Bheki Cele, the newswire said the attacks, in which vehicles are set alight, were linked to “economic wars”. No arrests have been made although police have identified 12 “people of interest”, Bloomberg News said.

“Evidence before us points to organised coordinated and sophisticated truck attacks that seek to undermine and sabotage the state,” Cele said.

There have been about 67 attacks on trucks since 2018 and more than 100 vehicles have been torched, with the violence previously linked to disputes over the hiring of foreign drivers, said the newswire. The latest violence broke out on Saturday evening in KwaZulu-Natal, where civil unrest that claimed 354 lives erupted two years ago.

“We need to stop this,” Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association told Bloomberg News in an interview. “All the businesses that support logistics, the fuel, the tyres, the servicing, the accommodation, the meals, other support systems all start to shrink because the numbers of trucks are shrinking, and that business goes to other countries, it goes to other ports.”

The attacks add another layer of disruption to South Africa’s coal industry which has resorted to exporting the fuel by road owing to constraints on rail routes operated by the beleaguered state-owned company, Transnet.

Richards Bay Coal Terminal, the privately-owned coal export handling facility, said in January that Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), a division of Transnet, only managed to rail 50.43 million tons (Mt) of coal last year. This was down from 58.1Mt in 2021 which was then the worst performance since 1996. The terminal managed to export 50.35Mt compared with 58.72Mt in 2021.

Thungela Resources, one of South Africa’s largest coal exporters said that by early May, TFR’s run-rate had “stabilised” at 48Mt following “a very weak start to the year” when it was below 40Mt.

In May, however, TFR suffered two derailments which resulted in the loss of 300,000 tons in railed volumes for the company. In order Thungela make the upper end of its export saleable production guidance range 12.5Mt, it required an industry run rate of 53Mt in the second half of the year, it said last month.