The inefficiencies at Transnet that have seen thousands of containers stranded at South Africa’s ports have made the country look like a “joke” to overseas companies and investors.
This is the view of Crown Relocations South Africa managing director Ian Pettey, who told SABC News that there are currently between 60,000 and 70,000 containers stranded on ships just outside the Durban port.
“Daily, around 52 vessels are out at sea, and container vessels are around the 22 ships per day stranded out at sea waiting to come into port to be helped and assisted in offloading containers,” he said.
This is due to significant inefficiencies at the country’s ports, which Transnet runs.
Pettey said the first issue is people management, as there is ineffective people management and unhappy staff at the ports, which contributes to the delays.
In addition, the country is over-reliant on trucks to transport goods for exports and imports due to South Africa’s ineffective railways, which Transnet also manages.
“The railway needs to be revamped and has the potential to carry substantially more containers directly into the harbour,” Pettey explained.
“If you look at what happened a few weeks ago at Richard’s Bay with the massive amount of trucks standing along the road trying to deliver coal, a train could take massive amounts into the port, which could be loaded quickly onto the vessels.”
He acknowledged that some efforts have been made to address these problems, but they have yet to bear fruit.
For example, the country has signed an agreement with a company from the Philippines to help run the ports. This company has the correct digitalisation and is a top-geared company to run ports, Pettey said.
“But we’re sitting now in December, six months later, and they’re not on the ground,” he said. “They’re ready to run, but they reckon Transnet management has slowed this process down.”
“So we’re sitting in a situation where, due to the inefficiency of that Transnet, we can’t get the people that we need to get on board to come and help us sort out our ports.”
In addition, the National Treasury recently awarded Transnet a R47 billion debt guarantee facility to assist the utility with its significant debt burden.
Pettey believes this guarantee will help to improve Transnet’s performance, but “it has to be spent in the right areas”.
For example, he said maritime digitalisation is critical, and the country must embrace it to improve efficiency.
In addition, Transnet must prioritise the ailing infrastructure at the country’s ports and proper maintenance.
“If we spend it on maintenance and also on embracing the digitalisation programs which this Filipino company will bring to our shores, the quicker we can do that, the quicker we will start getting containers moved in and out of the country,” he said.
He explained that the country has enough space to handle all the ships that come into its ports but does not have the infrastructure, manpower, or ability to handle more containers than it currently handles.
“I’m very optimistic about South Africa. We really have everything going for us, but we really need to get our act together,” he said.
“And we need to delight people because people see the shipping lines, and they feel we’re a joke. So we need to get our act together and make things happen.”
South Africa becoming irrelevant
Pettey’s concerns echo Syngia CEO Magda Wierzycka, who recently warned that South Africa is becoming more and more irrelevant globally as the country’s economy is plagued by load-shedding, poor economic growth, and a lack of investment in innovation and entrepreneurship.
“South Africa continues to squander its opportunities, from natural beauty and abundant resources to its world-prized constitution, respected universities, sophisticated financial services sector and well-functioning private sector,” Wierzycka wrote.
She said the country continues to be weighed down by the electricity crisis and continuing inequality while its economic growth continues to underwhelm and the rand depreciates.
“In the absence of a competent government, the provision of basic services is being increasingly ‘privatised’,” she wrote.
Wierzycka also bemoaned the fact that South Africans have “become too complacent and accepting of corruption, disorder, and non-delivery”.
“To achieve meaningful change, South Africans must unite again, much as we did in 2016 and 2017.”
The lack of change has led to South Africa’s global status being steadily diminished, with the country no longer being relevant to global superpowers.
“On the global stage, where South Africa is becoming more and more irrelevant, world powers such as the US and China are trying to decouple, striking new alliances to strengthen their respective positions,” Wierzycka wrote.