KZN govt on collision course with national govt over plans to move Transet offices from Durban Port to Eastern Cape
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Durban - THE KwaZulu-Natal government has expressed fear that the province’s economy would be compromised if the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) proceeds to relocate its headquarters from the Durban port to the Port of Ngqura in the Eastern Cape.
The provincial government is even considering declaring a dispute between itself and the national government over the proposed relocation.
However, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Tyrone Seale, who could not say whether or not the decision to relocate the headquarters has been finalised, also could not explain why the relocation was necessary.
Instead, Seale referred this question to Minister Pravin Gordhan’s Department of Public Enterprises, which is in charge of Transnet.
But when contacted for comment, Gordhan said: “I don’t talk to Independent (Media), thank you bye-bye.”
Seale said that when Ramaphosa visited Durban early last week to inspect the port’s infrastructure development, he requested that the talks over the dispute on the relocation continue and a solution be found.
He said it would be unfair to ask Ramaphosa whether or not he supported the relocation because “we are dealing with the economy, and we are dealing with various considerations”.
“So you will expect that recommendations (and) decisions are made and proposals are put to the president, and things go to the Cabinet. So it is not something that you want the president to take a decision on,” he said.
This, as Premier Sihle Zikalala’s cabinet and the Durban Municipality join forces in a tooth-and-nail battle against Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, which is said to be in support of the decision that would rob the metro of billions of rand contributed by the TNPA to the local economy.
The move would also see Ngqura replacing Durban as the country’s premier container terminal. Johannesburg-based TNPA headquarters would also be moved to Ngqura as cost-cutting measures by the state entity.
The transfer of the TNPA headquarters happened while the BRICS New Development Bank approved a $200 million (about R2.8 billion) loan for the expansion of the Durban Container Terminal.
This means that Durban stands to lose 31.4 million tons of cargo, which it handles each year.
The Port of Durban, which handles between 70% and 80% of national container traffic, contributes about 5% to the provincial economy. eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda told Independent Media’s Investigations Unit that eThekwini was waging a fierce fight to protect the province’s economic hub from losing its economic strength to Ngqura.
In a written response, Premier Zikalala said the provincial cabinet had on March 3 resolved to use all mechanisms at its disposal to oppose the move. “Such may include declaring an intergovernmental dispute on the Transnet decision.”
Economic development MEC Ravi Pillay, who together with transport MEC Peggy Nkonyeni is leading engagements with Transnet, has emphatically opposed the relocation.
“During those engagements, we were assured by Transnet that Durban will remain the hub port and that there are plans to expand the port,” said Pillay’s spokesperson, Bheki Mbanjwa.
Master mariner and director at Norton Rose Fulbright, Malcolm Hartwell, fears that the relocation would be a push back against a large number of new container terminal and warehouse business development projects that are mushrooming in the province along the N3 corridor between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
The Durban harbour is the biggest and busiest port in sub-Saharan Africa.
Transnet said in January that the relocation was part of its cost-cutting measures to consolidate Johannesburg and Durban-based head offices by moving them to the eMendi administration building in Port of Ngqura, which would save about R25m annually.
Transnet’s chief executive, Pepi Silinga, said that Ngqura was viable since the Eastern Cape was centrally positioned between KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.
“Transnet sees the consolidation of TNPA in the Eastern Cape as an important contributor to the revival of that province’s economy, as it increases the ease of doing business,” said Silinga.
Cosatu in the province had expressed anger over the relocation. The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union held a protest at the Durban port during Ramaphosa and Gordhan’s recent visit to the province, demanding clarity over the relocation.
Cosatu’s KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Edwin Mkhize, said Ramaphosa snubbed them when they requested that he talk to them about the relocation.