The North Gauteng High Court has granted 29 South African trucking companies a temporary reprieve to a new work-permit system for foreign truck drivers and ordered the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to allow drivers into the country.
This comes as the DHA had begun enforcing a work-permit regime for all foreign truck drivers working for local companies crossing the border into South Africa as of July 1.
Hitherto, foreign truck drivers working for South African companies could enter the country with a visitor's visa that was valid for 30 days.
Road Freight Association (RFA) technical and operations manager Gavin Kelly told Engineering News Online that its members have reported that their foreign drivers, who had not yet obtained work permits, were being turned away at the borders on Thursday.
Last month, the RFA warned of possible delays, should the tighter rules for truck drivers be implemented.
But a number of local trucking companies have won a temporary reprieve to the work-permit system.
Global Migration SA MD Leon Isaacson told Engineering News Online that 29 companies had launched an urgent court bid against the DHA on June 29, as they had struggled to obtain work permits for their foreign drivers.
The North Gauteng High Court had, on Thursday, ordered Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and DG Mkuseni Apleni, to provide the court with additional information on July 27, said Isaacson.
Until then, the DHA would not be allowed to prohibit foreign drivers working for these local trucking companies from entering the country's borders if they did not have the required work permits.
The department would also have to issue foreign drivers working for local companies with visitor visas with permission to work in the country, at the borders.
Isaacson noted that border officials have been refusing to issue such visitor visas in the recent past.
Further, the DHA would also have to deal with work permit applications within 30 days.
A written directive setting out these orders would have to be sent to all border officials by the DHA.
Isaacson noted the court's decision would affect the entire trucking industry and all companies that hired foreign truck drivers crossing into South Africa.
The 29 applications, who had since been joined by a further 12 companies, have requested a 12-month extension to the implementation of the system from the court.
This decision would only follow after the July 27 hearings.
The RFA had also requested the DHA to delay the implementation until September.
There was a general consensus that the DHA did not have the capacity to process the required work permits in time for the July 1 enforcement deadline.
Kelly had previously warned that this was a time-consuming and costly exercise, with companies having to prove that the skills being sought abroad were not available in South Africa.
Isaacson added that the DHA's new central processing hub for work permits, situated in Pretoria, was months behind with processing applications.
He noted that some of the applicants in the court case had submitted applications for work permits for drivers in March already and that these had still not been granted.
While there were no official statistics on the number of foreign drivers requiring work permits, Isaacson highlighted that there were an estimated 1 600 to 2 000 foreign drivers who required these permits.
This could affect between 6 000 and 8 000 truck deliveries a month.
A number of parties, including the RFA and Isaacson, pointed out that the implementation of this system could harm trade in the Southern African Development Community region.
Kelly had also previously warned that South Africa's neighbours could retaliate against the implementation of this system.