By Kotie Geldenhuys
Since the South African railway system is currently in shambles, our road network is the lifeline of the transport system. A major truck route is the N3 which runs between Durban, which has the busiest port in the country, and Gauteng. More than 80% of goods are transported by road and almost 50% of all these goods are transported along the N3 (Carte Blanche, 2019). The road freight sector in South Africa is a major contributor to the local economy and includes anything from owner-run small trucks, to a fleet of transport vehicles that travel the length and breadth of South African roads (FDK Transport, 2019). The negative part of transporting cargo by road is the increase in truck hijacking incidents which we have witnessed in recent years.
A ground-breaking case
Truck hijackings have started to escalate since 1996. One of the first truck hijacking cases which resulted in a successful prosecution and is regarded as a ground-breaking court case for truck hijacking prosecutions, was the Kroonstad case of 2001.
On 10 July 2001 at 18:30, the body of a truck driver was found in the sleeping area behind the driver's seat of a truck belonging to Drakensberg Logistics Company at an Ultra Shell filling station next to the N1 at Kroonstad. During the investigation of this truck hijacking and the murder of the truck driver, it transpired that a syndicate consisting of nine people had been involved in the crime. The investigation further established that the trucking company usually transported television sets and that the robbers were looking for these television sets. As they hijacked the truck, they shot the driver, only to find the consignment notes in the truck which indicated that the truck was in fact carrying dog food. The driver had been murdered for no reason as the truck was left as is, except that the driver's cellphone was taken.
In 2001, the use of cellphone technology was in its infancy, but from the cellphone analysis it could be established that shortly after the driver had been shot, someone had started to use his cellphone. From this cellphone analysis it became clear that a huge network of criminals was targeting trucks all over the country.
This syndicate was very aggressive and besides the Kroonstad murder, they had also murdered a man on the R59 at Kliprivier. In both cases there was limited evidence, except for the fingerprints which were left behind and the fact that both victims' cellphones had been stolen.
To this syndicate, the truck was of no value as they only focused on the cargo. Once the cargo had been off-loaded at a store or another safe place from where they could collect it later with other trucks, the hijacked truck and trailers were abandoned. In some cases, the truck was left behind and the trailer was attached to another truck to remove the cargo. Much of this cargo was on order and taken out of the country, mainly to Mozambique where there was a big need for electronic products as well as food. During the investigation it was established that police and other border officials were involved and that as much as R10 000 could be paid to police officials at Ports of Entry/Exit each time a truck passed.
The SAPS Head Office put a task team together to investigate this syndicate - the first syndicate to be investigated for truck hijacking. In 2002/2003 the SAPS started a project in cooperation with the private sector, including companies such as Imperial, to address truck hijackings. And it was not long before the police identified a suspect who was a truck driver at Imperial. It was decided to use this truck driver as an informer and after a section 204 application had been approved, the police arrested him. The police established that this truck driver had been involved in the hijacking and murder at Kroonstad in some way or another. Once he was arrested, it was found that the truck driver had not been involved in the crimes himself but that he had lent his firearm and cellphone to his colleagues for an amount of R4500. After he was confronted, he immediately cooperated and provided the names of the group to the police.