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Satawu mobilises members to oppose the ‘stealthy privatisation’ of the Durban harbour

Satawu is opposing the involvement of the private sector. Picture: Bongani Mbatha / African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Satawu is opposing the involvement of the private sector. Picture: Bongani Mbatha / African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Mar 17, 2023


Durban - The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), one of the biggest unions organising within Transnet’s owned ports across the country, has started mobilising its members to join the long fight in opposition to what it has termed the “stealthy privatisation” of the Durban harbour.

The union has prepared a report for its members for discussion and in the document seen by IOL, the union alleges that the harbour is being deliberately collapsed so that it could pave way for the private sector to step in and eventually take over.

“In 2022 the government, through the president on the first Sona (State of the Nation Address), announced introduction of private sector participation at Transnet ‘to ensure optimisation and efficient operations’ rail.

“A sector shop steward committee (SSC) meeting declared that they will fight privatization in any form or shape,” reads the opening line of the 12-page document circulated among members and confirmed to be authentic by the union.

Union members are urged to join the fight or they would find themselves without jobs once private companies are allowed to take over some of their functions.

The report also makes allegations about how the ports division of Transnet has parked critical tugboats, hampering operations.

“At TNPA there are 10 tug boats which should be used but at most there is less than four tug boats in operation, the rest of the tug boats are permanently docked at shop 24 where they are supposed to be serviced and brought back into operation.

“But management more than three years now they have been hiding behind procurement process for their deliberate failure to acquire spares for the tug boats to be serviced and brought back into commission.

“The intention is to render their TNPA assets i.e. tugboats out of commission, so as they can justify chartering of two private tugs into the Port of Durban.

“This is where the procurement process can be fast-tracked to acquire the private tug boats that will replace the TNPA tug boats.

“These tug boats will be manned by a private crew, meaning that the TNPA employees will be left with no jobs.

“The revenue that TNPA makes for the use of the tug boats in shipping will be shared with the tug boat charterers,” the union alleged in its document.

The union is also alleging that Transnet is privatizing Pier 2, which is the most productive and well-maintained, leaving poor-performing ones.

“It has become clear that the intention by those executing the privatisation of Transnet have selfish interest which are not to improve the company but to give it away.

“They intend to Privatize TPT Pier 2, which is the best performing terminal which connects with country’s economic hub through TFR Container Corridor, to ensure that the locomotives are kept maintained TE Maintenance which generates the most revenue is put under TFR so they can be privatized(leased) together.

“The current Transnet executives led by Portia Derby have failed dismally and they can never be entrusted with a responsibility to re-rail Transnet,” the union charged in the document.

Ayanda Shezi, the spokesperson for Transnet group, denied that the port was being deliberately rendered dysfunctional so that it could be privatised.

“Transnet has held extensive consultations with its recognised unions, SATAWU being one of them, over the past two years around the principle of private sector partnerships.

“These are ongoing.

“Our position is as follows - there is no privatisation under way at Transnet.

“In terms of Transnet’s strategy to work with private sector partners, the identified assets would be managed in the form of a joint venture for a set period of time, and will revert back to Transnet at the end of the stipulated period.

“In the process, crucial Transnet infrastructure is being revived.

“This is also being done to ensure Transnet continues to play a central role in reviving the South African economy, in line with its mandate.

“The approach Transnet has taken is based on global best practice,” Shezi said.

Regarding the issue of the parked tugboats that have since caused tension between the union and Transnet, Shezi said they were developing solutions and plans to resolve the challenges related to the shortage of tugboats in the Port of Durban.

She explained that one of the options that was being considered and investigated was the short-term rental of privately owned tugboats to supplement the port’s tug fleet.

She stressed that the rental option was never intended or considered as a replacement or privatisation of TNPA tugboat fleet, but merely to supplement tugboat operations in the short term and alleviate the short-term challenges.

“TNPA has since excluded the short-term tugboat rental option for the Port of Durban but is rather prioritising and expediting the port’s tugboat fleet repair and restoration programme, as well as the purchasing of additional tugboats.

“At the Port of Durban, TNPA has a tugboat fleet complement of 10 tugboats.

“In the past two months the port’s tugboat availability has been averaging at five tugs for marine services.

“Currently, five tugboats are operational with the remainder of the fleet undergoing repairs.

“The accelerated resolution envisages the repairs to be completed by July 2023, thus bringing tugboat availability back to 10.

“Furthermore, TNPA is in the process of procuring three tugboats which will increase the marine operations capacity to 13 tugboats by August 2023.”

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