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The lonely life of a truck driver

Last year I wanted to go to Cape Town. I had no money so I decided to hitch a lift. I was standing on the road when a truck went past me. It took a long time to stop. ‘Uyaphi?’ asked a big, strong man. “To Cape Town”, I said in a small voice. “I’m not allowed to give lifts,” said the truck driver, “but jump in.”

The truck started slowly again. The driver changed gears many times before he sat back. “How do you know which gear to use?” I asked, to be friendly. “When you drive trucks for a long time, you just know what gear to use,” the driver said.


I was happy to be on my way to Cape Town. I made myself comfortable — I you are driving 80 kilometres an hour for a thousand kilometres, staying awake is a big problem.

Our long drive took us through the towns and dorpies of our troubled but beautiful land. By the time we reached Cape Town, we were good friends. And I knew all about the life of truck drivers.


“I work for a big company,” the truck driver told me. “But do not write down the name, otherwise I will get into trouble. We drive all over the country — from Tzaneen in the north, to Cape Town in the south, from Windhoek in the west, to Durban in the east. “Sometimes I drive from 4 o’clock in the morning to 12 o’clock at night. The law says that we must stop driving at 10 o’clock at night, but sometimes we can- not do this. If you are in the middle of nowhere, you just carry on driving until you get to a town — or until you find other trucks at the side of the road.


“Sleeping on the road can be very dangerous. Once I stopped between Laingsburg and Beaufort West. Some crooks came and stole my spare wheel. I could not stop them. These people were armed. They had guns and knives.

“When I told the boss how I lost my spare wheel, he did not believe me. Then he filled in an accident report. And I knew I would get no bonus that week.


“My wages are not great — I get R85 a week. But we make money doing over- time. The money is good but the overtime is dangerous. People have accidents when they drive for too long.

“The other problem with overtime is that I never get to the shops. What use is money if you can never spend it. You are like a person without one cent in your pocket.”


“Long trips are also very bad for your family. One day I came home from work. When my little boy saw me, he ran away crying. He doesn’t know me anymore.

‘My wife gets angry because she must look after everything at home. I’m never there long enough to help her. And we both get very lonely. Lots of my friends at work are divorced because they are away from home so much.


“Last year some drivers from Natal said we must stop moaning and join a union. About 90 drivers came together to talk about it. We decided to join the Transport Workers Union. “That union was no good. We used to go to the union offices to ask for help. They talked a lot but they never helped us. That union is like a burial society. It helps more when you are dead than when you are alive.


“We wanted to leave the Transport Workers Union but we had a big problem. They had a ‘closed shop’ agreement with the boss. This meant that everyone HAD to belong to that union. In the end we called a meeting of all the drivers. Someone at that meeting said we must try another union.

“Now we all belong to the Transport and General Workers Union. They are much better. Before we had to drive from Jo’burg to Cape Town without stopping. The boss wrote down when we left and when we must get to Cape Town. Now all that has stopped.

“I tell everyone about Transport and General. Not so long ago I was on the road to Port Elizabeth. While I was resting, a truck from a company called Lombards stopped. The drivers were very unhappy. So I spoke about Transport and General. Later I heard that they had joined the union.”


My driver talked and talked the whole night. We saw the sun coming up. We knew we were close to Cape Town. We were both very tired. The driver dropped me off before we got into town. I was sad to get out of the truck. But I enjoyed the driver’s story so much, I thought I must share it with the Learn and Teach readers. I hope you like it too.


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