Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

South Africa had been in the midst of social unrest since the
start of 2021, with protests peaking in July at the Gauteng
province, which includes the city of Johannesburg. The continuous
unrest in the country brought the threat to the supply chain in
focus, as MHCV sales declined by more than 8% on a y-o-y basis,
halting the good recovery progress made in the industry. But
another less obvious threat looming in the country for a past few
years, is the lack of qualified truck drivers. Aspects of South
Africa’s truck-driver problems are unique; others are part of the
broader driver shortage visible elsewhere, even in some of the
largest truck markets.

July’s unrest depicted how a pause in the movement of vital
goods can lead to devastating situations in the country. The fact
that road freight is increasingly surpassing rail as the medium of
choice highlights even more the need for a reliable and efficient
truck logistics sector. According to latest data, South Africa has
a shortage of approximately 3,000 truck drivers, with the shortage
continuously growing since the past few years.

However, the more significant concern is that employees
sometimes have to work longer hours than usual to counter such
shortages, which creates dangerous on road situations and increases
the likelihood of accidents. With these supply chain concerns,
delays in transport of essential goods and higher chances of
accidents, it is vital to look at the factors causing these driver
shortages in the country.

So, what exactly is the reason for vacancies in the medium and
heavy commercial-vehicle (MHCV) driving jobs in a country where
unemployment rate peaked to an all-time high of 34.9% in 2021? The
answer isn’t a straightforward one, as a myriad of factors is in
play resulting in these shortages. Firstly, lack of skill and
experience is the biggest hinderance in finding drivers. Drivers
handling heavy freight need a range of skills such as driving in
wet conditions; economical driving; heavy goods vehicle braking;
straight reverse and ally docking, to name a few. It takes between
3-5 years to be experienced enough making it very difficult for
entrants to get hired in the first place. Consequently, employers
have difficulty finding apt drivers to carry the freight.

A second reason is the emigration of the already small driver
pool to foreign developed countries in the search of better wages
and much better working conditions and lifestyles. The trucking
industry’s turnover and emigration rates are very high as job
conditions are challenging. Longer working hours are not just a
consequence but also a reason for the shortage as more and more
experienced drivers quit in search of better pastures in foreign
lands. All these challenges have created a vicious cycle of
low-skilled drivers and higher turnover rates in the industry. The
income disparity between drivers in Africa and other developed
countries such as the United Kingdom & the United States also
attracts skilled drivers to emigrate and earn more in those foreign

Lastly, unscrupulous players are sometimes alleged to dodge
regulations related to safety or staffing costs, which may
contribute to unsafe conditions and tensions in the labor
environment. Such tensions recently culminated in acts of violence
and protest in the country. The native drivers violently protested
the increasing hiring of foreign nationals from poorer countries
and blocked a major highway in the Eastern Cape—instances like
these further increase the turnover rates for drivers willing for
better working conditions.

All in all, factors such as lack of relevant experience in the
market, emigration of skilled drivers for better wages &
working conditions and higher turnover rates due to an unsafe,
rigorous, and sometimes a violent industry have created a shortage
for the most important freight mode of transport in the country. On
the positive side, the government, as well as private bodies, are
taking steps to try and improve the situation. To solve the issue
of lack of skills, a few private organizations have started
training academies and courses in the country imparting drivers
with the necessary skillset to be hired in the market. The
government has also announced its plans on implementing stricter
border access controls and will be introducing new regulations to
prevent undocumented drivers from operating in the country. In
October, authorities also deployed a task team to check credentials
of drivers passing by Middelburg in the Eastern Cape. Hopefully,
such prompt measures will help prevent further damage to the
already struggling South African economy.

The South African truck sales market remained strong even in the
face of social unrests and recurring level 3-4 restrictions in the
country, recovering by more than 22% post the 2020 covid slump to
reach the previous 22k levels. However, we believe it has the
potential to develop more and a functional and peaceful driver pool
will not only improve the efficiency of trucking companies but also
create a healthy work environment for drivers & operators
alike, further growing the truck sales in the country.

Posted 03 February 2022 by Ujjwal Yadav, Research Analyst, Medium & Heavy Commercial Vehicles, IHS Markit