Changing the Rhythm of Trucking at RFA Convention 2024

“Cometh the hour, cometh the trucker … Remember that YOU are my man in the arena”.  These powerful words and significant call to action, spoken by Road Freight Association (RFA) Chairperson Penwell Lunga (pic above), were the high impact opening of the 2024 Convention. Themed ‘Changing the Rhythm of Trucking’, RFA Convention 2024 took place on 24 and 25 May at the Arabella Hotel in Hermanus, Western Cape.

In his welcome address, Lunga recounted the story of Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena”. He painted a stark picture of the past five years, a period marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing global conflicts, and a struggling global economy. Highlighting South Africa's specific challenges – weak infrastructure hindering its ability to weather these storms – Lunga acknowledged the immense pressure on businesses.

However, he didn't dwell on negativity. Instead, he offered a powerful example of resilience. Viktor Shevchenko's trucking company in Ukraine - the Zammler Group - stands as a beacon of determination. Despite losing most of its workforce and facing disrupted transportation routes due to the war, the company has rebuilt and continued operating. Lunga emphasised how Shevchenko embodied the "Man in the Arena," someone who steps into the ring and fights for a worthy cause.

This example served as a rallying cry for South African businesses. Lunga urged delegates to embrace the same spirit. He reminded them that "You are the Man in the Arena." Just as Shevchenko has kept Ukraine's vital supply lines open, South African businesses play a similar, critical role in South Africa. Despite the uncertainties – energy shortages, water crises, and a weak infrastructure – Lunga challenged everyone to keep serving the country and the region. He concluded by reminding them of the crucial truth: "Without Trucks, South Africa Stops!"

Top Industry Challenges

In his CEO’s Address, Gavin Kelly noted that South Africa was going through a critical period - as was the rest of the world. Major changes and shifts - elections, conflicts, climate change and more - were inevitably changing “the rhythm of trucking”.

Kelly shared some of the highlights and biggest challenges facing the trucking industry over the past years. On the positive front, the RFA had witnessed a 12,4% growth in membership over the past year and enjoyed 18 well-attended and relevant engagements. On the labour front, the trucking industry had enjoyed another year of peace.

There were however significant ongoing challenges plaguing the industry; the four big challenges were borders, ports, crime and rates.

Delays and queues at the border posts continued to hamper daily operations. Long queues at border posts caused major delays, impacting on productivity and profitability for companies. Added to this was the inevitable criminal activity that resulted from this. The ongoing delays were not limited to a few border posts – they were widespread.

The severe congestion at ports were impacting not only South Africa, but the region, with many shipping lines now choosing to bypass South Africa’s ports. “Other ports in Africa are doing a far better job than ours,” said Kelly, adding that this was not the case 10 years ago.

Referring to the ever-present crime, Kelly said: “With little/no deterrents, it pays to do crime in our country.”

Huge pressure on operating margins added even more pressure onto trucking companies.

Packed Programme

The impactful, insightful programme included industry experts from across the spectrum, tackling tough topics:

  • Thriving in Flux – Unveiling New Economic Trends by Neo Ralefeta: Treasury Structuring Consultant at Investec
  • Political Pulse Check: Navigating the Currents of Change for a Brighter Future by political analyst Dr Ongama Mtimka
  • Unleashing the power of your B-BBEE compliance spend by Devon Palanee – Executive Director: Athenia
  • Unlocking AEOs’ potential: Discovering the transformative benefits for effortless cross-border operations by Louise Wiggett – Founder of Global Trade Solution
  • The South African shippers’ demand for efficient logistics systems – Prof Jan Havenga, Director/Emeritus Professor at GAIN/University of Stellenbosch.