South Africa Profile

South Africa Profile

First published: March 2023

Picture of Danny Ramon
Danny Ramon

Intelligence & Response Manager


South Africa is a major logistics transit country for a number of landlocked African states such as Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana. Freight is moved from the main ports of Durban, Richard’s Bay and Saldanha Bay primarily by road due to the flexibility afforded by trucking, the cost-effective payloads permitted by the South African Road Safety Administration, and inefficiencies in the rail freight sector. Transport infrastructure is good but suffers from poor maintenance, rising costs and a lack of continued investment to boost capacity to meet increased demand.

Crime rates, including cargo crime, are high and South Africa accounts for around 30% of all cargo crime in the Middle East and Africa region combined. Armed, often violent hijackings are the most common method of cargo theft and are concentrated but by no means exclusive to the province of Gauteng.

As a major base for manufacturing, Mexico is an important link in the global supply chain of many major companies. Multinationals in the automotive, textile, aerospace, medical, electronic and appliance industries in particular rely on Mexico for a significant portion of their manufacturing capacity, particularly in servicing the huge consumer market of the United States.

Transport Infrastructure

Ports: Despite their importance to the economy, South African ports are regarded as being inefficient and in need of investment, with the World Bank ranking the port of Cape Town 347 of 351 in global container port performance in 2021, with other South African ports also lowly ranked. In 2021 the government announced plans to separate the infrastructure owner from the terminal operator, both of which are part of the State-owned infrastructure company Transnet, in an attempt to encourage greater efficiency and private investment in ports that are seen as over-reliant on public spending. Investment over the coming years in projects such as the Cato Ridge rail shuttle are intended to reduce road congestion at the main port of Durban and further aid efficiency. However, planned major investments will take time to have an effect and Transnet itself has suffered from poor corporate governance, allegations of corruption, and repeatedly failed to publish financial statements, contributing to a downgrading of its corporate rating by Moody’s in late 2021. 

In July 2021 concerns were raised over Transnet’s vulnerability to cyber attacks when it declared force majeure after a ransomware attack temporarily halted port operations in Durban, Ngqura, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Bottlenecks in bulk rail transportation as well as port inefficiencies have hurt the mining sector as commodities such as coal, chrome, iron ore and manganese shipments are handled well below peak efficiency. Problems with the Freight Rail division of Transnet, which operates the bulk rail freight infrastructure, have forced mining companies to bypass rail bottlenecks by turning to additional road transport. Minerals extracted from the Limpopo region are particularly reliant on more expensive road transport, which is then further delayed by South African ports’ designed for bulk rail freight and ill-equipped to handle high numbers of trucks. Mining and logistics companies have been working with Transnet to address the short- term operational issues, but long-term solutions will only be solved with sustained investment and better maintenance of rolling stock and infrastructure.

Road freight is of key importance to the South African economy as it has become the primary method to move goods inland from coastal regions to the major business hubs of Johannesburg and Pretoria. It is also a key component of moving export goods such as minerals to port, and an important logistics link for several landlocked African countries. The South African Road Safety Administration allows for
the largest payloads in the world with a maximum 
of 38 tons in 124m² capacity. This has led to the legal axle mass (LAM) for road freight exceeding the design specifications of most South African roads and contributing to worsening road surface conditions.


South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. The city of Cape Town is ranked as one of the world’s worst cities for homicide per capita, while a vehicle hijacking happens somewhere in the country on average every 25 minutes. Violent crime is particularly prevalent due to the availability of firearms, gang warfare and growing inequality across society. Unemployment is also a factor, with 32% of the population unemployed including 64% in the under 35s. Over half the population of 60 million also live in poverty, with 20% experiencing food insecurity. Armed robberies are common, both of businesses and home invasions, with particularly brutal attacks carried out on farming settlements.

 Cargo Hijackings: Hijackings cost the South African insurance industry on average around R3 billion (USD$186,011,220) a year, according to the South African Insurance Crime Bureau – mainly in payouts for lost cargo as the trucks are often unharmed. The
bulk of truck hijackings occur in Guaten province, 
which logged 60% of total thefts during 2021-2022, although incidents also occur across Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Armed hijackings of trucks are frequently carried
out by well organised gangs. While cargo crime 
temporarily shifted during the Covid-19 pandemic more towards theft from warehouses, truck hijackings in the 2021/22 fiscal year increased significantly according to the South African Police Service (SAPS). While Q4 saw the most incidents with 465, the bulk of the increase occurred in Q1, where hijackings rose 107% from 198 to 411 incidents. Part of this increase can be attributed as a “return to form” following a dip in Q1 hijackings in the 2020/21 fiscal year that can be attributed to Covid-19 lockdowns, but even taking this into account the 1,734 hijackings of the 2021/22 period shows a 24.1% increase from the previous year and a 44.8% increase on the 2017-2020 average, where hijackings were relatively constant at around 1,200 a year.

Hijacker’s preferred method is to either target vehicles at rest in truck stops or lay-bys or more often induce a truck to stop. This may include getting the driver to stop with fake hitchhikers or broken down motorists, sabotaging the truck so the driver
stops to investigate, creating fake police checkpoints 
or even forcing the truck to stop using other vehicles.

In some cases so-called “Blue Light Gangs” use corrupt police officers to stop trucks, particularly on the N12 and N3 in Gauteng. Robbers are usually well armed and have engaged police in gun fights when they have intervened. They also make use of more sophisticated equipment such as GSM and GPS signal jammers to prevent vehicle tracker alerts reaching security companies or police. Routes found to be of particular
concern include the N1 from Cape Town, N3 between 
Durban and Johannesburg, and the N4 linking the border crossings of Skipadshek and Komatipoort. These attacks can be either random or, in the case of more sophisticated gangs, specifically targeted against specific loads or types of cargo with the help of insiders from the trucking or shipping company.

Cash-In-Transit: Cash-in-transit (CIT) robberies have also seen a year-on-year increase of around 10%. 2021/22 saw 211 CIT robberies, up from 190 the
previous year. Again these incidents are concentrated 
in the province of Gauteng, followed by Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. While the number of robberies had been roughly consistent over previous years, security company managers have noted a significant rise in the levels of violence, with guards often held at gunpoint, stripped of weapons or shot dead by increasingly large groups of attackers. In one especially extreme case in Cape Town a security guard was abducted and forced to wear an explosive vest and clear out several ATMs. More common tactics involve ramming a CIT truck and forcing the occupants out with gunfire, but explosives are being increasingly used to breach security trucks. Brazen attacks in public places and in broad daylight are common.

60 percent

of total hijacking thefts 2021-22 occurred in Guaten province

Political Violence and Protest

2021 saw riots – sometimes referred to as the Zuma Riots – from 9th – 18th July, when supporters of former president Jacob Zuma took to the streets in his native province of KwaZulu-Natal after Zuma was imprisoned for contempt of court following corruption charges. The unrest began in Durban, where Zuma-supporting protesters burned twenty trucks, blocked the N2 and N3 highways and blockaded the ports of Durban and Richards Bay. Rioting spread to Johannesburg, Pretoria and other towns in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and there was widespread looting of warehouses and burning of factories, leading to the loss of an estimated R10 billion (USD$680 million) of goods. The violence only ended when the government deployed 25,000 troops including armoured vehicles. Over 300 people are believed to have been killed in both racially-motivated murders and vigilantism during the unrest, and several arrests were made for inciting the mob to violence through social media. Although not a common occurrence, the Zuma Riots demonstrate the vulnerability of commercial businesses to political events and the level of potential lawlessness that can rapidly manifest in South Africa.

The trucking industry is subject to increasing numbers of protests against the hiring of foreign nationals. In June of 2022 truckers blocked the N3 highway from Durban to Johannesburg in Van Reenan, delaying over 700 trucks for over 24 hours. Similar protests on main transport routes in 2021 prompted the government to form a panel to look into issues around the hiring foreign drivers and professional driving permits.

Foreign drivers in South Africa have been targeted with violence repeatedly in recent years, with several being attacked during the Zuma Riots of 2021 under the cover of the generalised looting. From March 2018 to June 2019 over 200 foreign truck drivers are reported to have been murdered in South Africa, with 1,200 vehicles or cargoes
destroyed. Industry figures voiced concerns that the violence could lead to revenge attacks on South African truck 
drivers abroad following warnings that Zambian and Zimbabwean trucking groups would retaliate. Others have accused South African trucking organisations of acting like the mafia, with some drivers being forced to pay protection money or being pressured into industrial action and protests. Requests for police escorts for foreign drivers are unlikely to be met due to costs, manpower and political reticence, although some companies have provided limited
security for foreign employees.


200 foreign truck drivers

targeted and killed between 2018 and 2019


South Africa’s logistics sector plays a crucial role in moving freight from the main ports to and from landlocked African states, but it suffers from inefficiencies, poor maintenance, and rising costs. With factors such as the largest legal over-the-road payloads in the world, continued investment is needed to meet maintenance requirements, increased demand, and reduce road congestion. The government should also take steps to improve corporate governance and tackle corruption to encourage private sector investment in these interests. Long- term solutions will depend on infrastructure projects such as the Cato Ridge rail shuttle, and hopefully others, to improve supply chain efficiency and security.

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