Vehicles burnt in arson attacks amid bitter allegations of racism and monopoly.
‘ This is a racist industry, black people just can’t get in
Death threats, arson attacks, allegations of racism and a monopoly have signalled a brewing confrontation in Nelson Mandela Bay’s notorious and highly lucrative tow truck and vehicle repair industry.
National insurance giant Santam has found itself in the middle of the fray.
Arson attacks on vehicles of two competing companies in Port Elizabeth in the past two weeks have threatened to spark violent confrontation between the companies. Although a number of tow truck companies operate in the Bay, the industry is dominated by Crash Motors Towing and Recovery, Precision Tow-In and relative new-comer V &R Auto Towing.
Speaking from his Walmer premises this week, V&R owner Raven Rungan said confrontation was looming in the industry because insurance companies refused to list small and non-white owned companies as service providers.
“Everything has changed in South Africa over the past 20 years and all races have access to all types of business.
“This is except for [vehicle] recovery and repair shops in the Eastern and the Western Cape.
“This is a racist industry, black people just can’t get in,” he said. Rungan, 43, who made headlines when he pleaded not guilty in court late last year for culpable homicide and drunkdriving that resulted in the death of a Muir College pupil, Anre Grobbelaar, 18, on December 3, 2010. The case is ongoing.
The flamboyant businessman, who contends that threats have been made on his life, also made the news in 2013 when he reportedly splurged out R180 000 on a party to celebrate his daughter’s 16th birthday at the Radisson Blu hotel in Port Elizabeth.
Meanwhile, in response to Rungan’s claims, established tow-truck business owner Dave Mandel and Santam have hit back.
Santam spokesman Donald Kau yesterday confirmed the unrest in the tow truck and vehicle repair industry was fraught with issues and regular incidents of violence. He denied that Santam discriminated on the basis of race.
“In fact, with regards to V&R, they are on our supplier base for their towing services, but this is under strict conditions. Due to unpleasant dealings with V&R Auto, the repair shop part of the business is not on our supplier list.”
Auto Bodyworks owner Mandel yesterday rubbished Rungan’s claims: “Port Elizabeth is a small town and everything was quiet until V&R came on to the scene. Suddenly vehicles are being burned and people are being attacked and beaten up.”
Mandel blamed exorbitant rates that he alleged were charged by V&R as the main problem.
The latest animosity in the tow truck industry in Port Elizabeth mirrors the growing conflict and racial turf war in the Western Cape where a tow truck driver was fatally shot during his first day on the job last Wednesday.
There are fears that the violence will spill over into the Eastern Cape from the Western Cape, where non-white owners of tow truck companies have complained that they are prejudiced by insurance companies and large, white-owned vehicle recovery firms.
Rungan said his only flatbed truck – which had a replacement value of about R700 000 – had been targeted in an arson attack and that he was offering a R50 000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the arsonist.
“I have also been told of a potential hit on me,” he said.
When asked where the death threat emanated from, Rungan said he suspected it was from one of the Johannesburgbased call centres which received vehicle emergency calls and then dispatched the towing companies to assist.
Rungan confirmed his long and on-going fight to be listed with Santam. He said Mandel’s Auto Bodyworks enjoyed a monopoly in the Bay.
Rungan said he had been working with the Western Cape-based South African Auto Repairer and Salvage Association (SAARSA), of which he is an executive member, to address issues in the industry. Saarsa is one of at least three industry associations.
A vehicle owned by Crash Motors Towing and Recovery was set on fire in the yard of a Crash employee last Tuesday. The damage was valued at R300 000.
Crash owner Marchant Mulder said yesterday he did “not know what happened to his vehicle or anything about the attack on V&R’s truck” and did not want to comment further.
– Shaun Gillham