Heavy Metal – MAN trucks on tour across South Africa

Chrome ore from South Africa´s mines is a much sought-after commodity in the metal processing industry worldwide. MAN trucks transport many tons of this raw material from the north of the country along a steep mountainous route to the port of Richards Bay. On tour with the South African logistics company Chrome Carriers.

MAN truck driving along one of South Africa´s long, red sandy roads.

Winding through the east of South Africa, this is National Highway 2, somewhere between Empangeni and Pongola. After a few hundred meters of densely planted woodland, a few huts come into view at a crossroads. A telegraph wire attached to a sloping wooden mast spans the wide and well-constructed road and a family sits together under the shade of a tree. Michael Sipho brings his MAN truck to a halt in the lay-by and turns on the hazard warning lights. Two girls in brightly-colored dresses are standing on the grass by the roadside – they have been expecting him. “These are my sisters,” says Michael. The young driver has been working as a trucker for three years and supports his family living here in a small village in the east of the country. “It’s a good job,” says the 29-year-old, who switched to a different employer just a few months ago. He now works for the Chrome Carriers transport company and steers a new MAN truck. “As far as I’m concerned, MAN is number one!”

Map of South Africa showing the truck route from Richards Bay to Rustenburg.

No technical defects in spite of non-stop service

For decades, South Africa has been recognized as the economic development engine of an entire continent. In the booming mining industry, Chrome Carriers – a subsidiary of the Reinhardt Transport Group (RTG) – has established itself as the largest private logistics partner for mining enterprises. New drivers like Michael Sipho receive comprehensive training at Chrome Carriers before going on tour on their own, with special importance being laid on training drivers how to handle their vehicles safely and economically. Chrome Carriers has a modern fleet which, following full-scale field tests, was partially replaced by 140 MAN TGS trucks in 2012. The vehicles operate in South Africa under challenging conditions, making precise servicing by a tight network of MAN service points indispensable. Chrome Carriers has concluded a "full maintenance contract" with MAN, which covers servicing and maintenance, as well as an extended warranty. After three years and after traveling up to 700,000 kilometers, the trucks are traded in for new vehicles.

Heavy trucks and steep inclines

The first leg of Michael Sipho’s tour takes him from Richards Bay into the outlying areas of the mining town Piet Retief. The road winds past national parks and water reservoirs, cuts across pastureland and through towns and villages, marks the Swaziland border and occasionally takes the form of a mountain pass. The journey is a difficult one for the fully loaded trucks, especially due to the sharp inclines. Richards Bay lies at sea level, while Piet Retief is located in the highlands of Mpumalanga Province at an altitude of 1,250 meters. The short stop at his family’s village is the only break during Michael’s journey before reaching his destination. After five hours of driving, he arrives at the mining site in Piet Retief. Michael first trundles over the weigh station before positioning his seven-axle vehicle alongside one of the big coal tips. A wheeled loader shovels the coal into the dumpers, filling them up in just a few minutes. As it leaves, the truck is weighed once more. “Have a good trip!” says one of the mining company employees as he hands Michael the documents. It will be nearly another 500 kilometers before he reaches his next destination – a chrome mine near Rustenburg, to the west of Pretoria. Here he will swap his coal for chrome, sleep for a few hours and then head east again – back to Richards Bay, where his load will be carried by sea to places all over the world.

Driver Michael Sipho with his two younger sisters.

Taking a break

Michael Sipho takes a short break from his journey to visit his sisters near Pongola.

Two drivers taking over a vehicle.

Full tank

A driver signs the fuel receipt and takes over his vehicle for the next trip.

An MAN truck is loaded with chrome ore.

Heavy haulage

Michael Sipho´s truck is loaded up at the coal mine in Piet Retief.

Three MAN employees check the twin-tire set on the MAN truck.

Twin pack

Although these sets of twin tires are designed to cope with the tough operating conditions in South Africa and the high payload, a tire might still occasionally burst.

MAN TGS with special side-tipper body.

Flexible transporter

The MAN TGS used by Chrome Carriers are equipped with special side tippers.

Images © Richard Kienberger

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