South Africa’s ’Gateway to Africa’ status hangs in the balance after a cyber attack on Transnet last week severely disrupted its operations. Photo: File
South Africa’s ’Gateway to Africa’ status hangs in the balance after a cyber attack on Transnet last week severely disrupted its operations. Photo: File

SA’s ‘Gateway to Africa’ status at risk as Transnet tries to fix IT system woes

By Banele Ginindza Time of article published Jul 26, 2021

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SOUTH Africa’s “Gateway to Africa” status hangs in the balance after a cyber attack on Transnet last week severely disrupted its operations.

And while the parastatal said on Friday that it had identified the source of the hack and its personnel were working on restoring its IT systems, it was not yet clear if all of its systems had been fully restored.

The implications for South Africa, both in the short and long term, are serious. The past five years have seen South African ports deteriorating further. In a World Bank report issued earlier this year, the Port of Durban was listed as one of the three worst ports in the world – out of 351 ports that were assessed.

Systems operator Navis, which provides some of the information technology for Transnet, at the weekend clarified that its systems were not the source of the breach of security stemming from a cyber attack.

In a statement, Navis, whose systems had to be shut down countrywide as Transnet searched for the breach in the systems, said it had collaborated in identifying and isolating the cause of the disruption and helped to restore operations.

“While the source of the disruption is not related to Navis, as a precautionary measure Transnet shut down all systems, including the servers running the N4 terminal application,” Navis said.

Transnet spokesperson Ayanda Shezi on Friday confirmed that the Navis system, which also operates on the road freight systems, had to be temporarily shelved.

“Port terminals are operational across the system, with the exception of container terminals, as the Navis system on the trucking side has been affected. In the Eastern Cape, terminal operations have been halted due to inclement weather conditions, and will continue manually once it is safe to do so. The Ports Authority continues to operate, and vessels moving in and out of the ports are being recorded manually,” Shezi said.

Transnet, which operates major ports and a huge railway network, is yet to announce a full restoration of the systems, which had to go on manual mode from Thursday to deal with increasing bottlenecks after it had systems failure. “All business continuity plans have been activated. Operations across the group are continuing, with the Freight Rail, Pipelines, Engineering and Property divisions reporting normal activity,” Shezi said on Friday.

Transnet said it was prioritising the export of reefer containers, used mainly to transport perishable cargo at a controlled temperature, primarily through the port of Durban as this was the peak of the citrus season.

The Road Freight Association (RFA) on Friday confirmed a second day of a logjam at the Durban and Cape Town ports, pointing out that the massive delays had created unreliability of the movement of goods across all modes of transport – with road freight bearing the brunt of the impact.

“The manual processes being used are also creating problems in terms of operations. Road freight operators already have a huge backlog resulting from last week’s civil unrest. The delays at the port will further exacerbate the problem. Deliveries will become unreliable and unpredictable – adding further inefficiencies into the supply chain,” RFA chief executive Gavin Kelly said on Friday.

“The system needs to be adapted to ensure this sort of thing cannot happen in future. In the meantime, an alternative system, even if manual, needs to be put in place.”

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