South Africa's President Tours Richards Bay Vowing Accountability for Delay
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the Port of Richards Bay with members of his government yesterday, November 23, to assess the state of the port and efforts underway to address the congestion crippling the ports. After a briefing from port operator Transnet, members of the business community, and personally touring the port, the president expressed confidence while also saying the government would hold individuals accountable for the near paralysis in the country’s ports and damage to the economy.
“I have made it clear to Transnet that I want all the problems solved by next year,” the president said speaking to reporters at the end of his visit to Richards Bay. “By the end of the first month , we must see some improvement. The incompetence and lack of action that we have seen here must be a matter that is dealt with immediate effect.”
The visit to the port came a day after the executives of Transnet met with the local government which is now threatening to take the company to court over the high volume of trucks that are jamming the roads. Port officials suggested they could block trucks which was met with resounding condemnation from the business community. The roads in and around Port Richards however are snarled with coal trucks.
The president said the first priority has to be the trucks and ships waiting days and days. He said it needs to be resolved while recounting that Transnet said it was bringing down the number of hours they are waiting to be serviced. By some estimations though the number of ships waiting offshore skyrocketed in recent days to over 90. Richards Bay is the main port for the mining industries while a similar delay is also plaguing Durban where reports are that 71,000 containers are stuck on ships.
The President conducted an aerial surveillance ahead of his visit to the Port of Richards Bay today. Transnet is appraising the President on the constraints to the logistics system, rail and trucking challenges, and the turnaround initiatives aimed at clearing the backlog and… pic.twitter.com/dRgP78Kg6C— Presidency | South Africa ???????? (@PresidencyZA) November 23, 2023
Transnet highlights that it has put a plan in place for immediate actions to help alleviate the problems by increasing terminal capacity and extra workers on the docks in Durban. They are also adding four more locomotives to the rail line serving the Port of Richards Bay before the end of November. They reported that they would also be lengthening the trains servicing Richards Bay from 40 to 50 cars.
The president acknowledged a lack of investment in the ports and rail network as well as citing a failure at maintenance. He also blamed damage to the conveyor belts caused by an October 2021 fire at Richards Bay. Transnet is now promising to expedite the return of the conveyor belt for dry bulk by December 2023.
The South African Association of Freight Forwarders however remains critical of Transnet. They called for definitive plans and a timetable for more of the steps that are being promised. They want more rehabilitation of the rail line in Richards Bay. Some reports said the port is only moving four or five trains per day when it should be moving 40 trains a day.
They also called for Transnet to source second-hand cargo-handling equipment to make up for the shortage at the ports. Transnet has promised to buy new equipment while noting it would take time to get the equipment. Skeptics also note that Transnet does not have the financial resources to make the large promised investments in equipment.
Ramaphosa vowed to look at the capabilities of the people who are working at the state-owned company. He said he was encouraged but what he heard and optimistic that positive changes would be coming while promising to continue to closely monitor progress at the ports and with the rail system. Earlier in the week, discussing the problems at the container terminals in Durban, Transnet had warned it would take up to 15 weeks to clear the largest terminal while many of the investments would not see new equipment till the summer of 2024 and later.