‘Collapse of Transnet ports represents a serious concentration risk for the domestic economy’

Retailers say they are well prepared for the festive season despite port crises. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

Retailers say they are well prepared for the festive season despite port crises. Picture: Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

Published Nov 22, 2023


Cape Town - Transnet’s National Ports Authority says it is not solely to blame for the chaos at the country’s ports as retailers insisted they had sufficient stocks to weather the storm.

But Senior Economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council Thabile Nkunjana said the delays were a cause for concern.

Reports earlier this week stated that just over 71000 containers were waiting to be offloaded, as the Transnet National Ports Authority battles to overcome “a combination of many things”.

In response to questions about the delays, Transnet National Ports Authority’s regional spokesperson Andiswa Mesatywa said one of the factors was the under-utilisation of night runs, non-compliance to the truck booking system and industry operating hours being limited to daytime.

“As a result of misaligned working hours, the terminal services 88% of truck visits during the day while only 12% occur at night,” said Mesatywa Nkunjana said that given the time of year when vital agricultural exportable products are to be exported, the current port inefficiencies being observed across South Africa are cause for concern. He said several agricultural products are in season, while others are still in the early stages.

“Peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries and plums are examples of stone fruits that are in season. South Africa is a leading producer of stone fruit in Africa, and it is vital that when these products are in season, particularly those that are available for market in busy seasons like these, they are exported efficiently and on schedule to the right markets,” said Nkunjana.

He said the global market was becoming increasingly competitive, and the existing port issues were working against South Africa’s ability to preserve its position as a top producer and exporter to the global market.

“South Africa exports to practically all global markets, and it must work relentlessly to preserve its edge as a supplier to these markets to maintain its production growth prospects, status as a key supplier, and to sustain jobs in these industries.”

Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC Mireille Wenger said that in the first two weeks of October, vessel waiting time at anchor averaged 4.9 days versus the target of 1 day. Vessel turnaround time averaged 10 days versus the target of 4 days, containers moved averaged 9 197 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers versus a target of 20 000, truck turnaround time averaged 77 minutes versus the target of 35 minutes, and night shift utilisation averaged 13.5% versus a target of 20%.

“The variance between actual performance and targets is cause for great concern and this is why private sector participation is urgently needed at the Cape Town Port, as is currently under way at the ports of Durban and Ngqura,” added Wenger.

The Free Market Foundation (FMF) also agrees with Wenger that the private sector must assist; it said the central government was unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to fix the ports, which means that South Africans must look for alternative approaches.

“If consumers and the economy are to be rescued from this policy-induced problem, the private sector must take over Transnet’s core functions. Failing that, the Port of Cape Town represents a significant opportunity for the opposition-controlled municipal and provincial governments to take the initiative and simply assume operational control.

“The legal doctrine of ‘necessity’ could be used to justify such an action. Pleading in vain with Pretoria for permission simply will not work,” said Martin van Staden at FMF.

The Shoprite Group said although it acknowledges the challenges experienced by the country’s ports, it is well prepared for the festive season.

“The group’s supermarkets are fully stocked and well prepared for Black Friday and the festive season, despite the issues currently experienced at South African ports.

“Extensive planning for the peak retail trading period commences months in advance to ensure Shoprite, Checkers and Usave supermarkets have sufficient stock of what customers want and need at the lowest prices,” the group said.

Pick n Pay also assured that the delays wouldn’t impact its stores ahead of Black Friday.

“There are no delays that will impact our stock levels for Black Friday or our Christmas trade. We import very little for our business, as 95% of the items on our shelves are sourced locally.

“We plan months in advance for our peak shopping periods, and products are delivered to our distribution centre early as there is often congestion this time of year as international shipments increase.”

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