Fruit industry seeks legal advice as Port of Cape Town continues to face delays

Delays at the port of Cape Town are causing havoc for fruit exporters whose containers destined for the overseas market are not going anywhere. Picture: Denzil Maregele

Delays at the port of Cape Town are causing havoc for fruit exporters whose containers destined for the overseas market are not going anywhere. Picture: Denzil Maregele

Published Jan 20, 2024


Hortgro and other industry associations are currently considering legal action against Transnet to recoup losses due to the delays at the Port of Cape Town that have affected cargo exports in the last couple of months.

Transnet said it was working on these challenges.

However, industry role players said they had not seen much of an improvement.

Hortgro executive director Anton Rabe said, “Unfortunately, most of Transnet's promises (additional equipment, improved maintenance, availability of spare parts, better operational planning, adequate labour over Christmas and New Year) did not materialise.

“This, coupled with wind delays (which are a given), resulted in starting our peak weeks of the stone fruit and table grape export seasons with backlogs that are yet to be cleared. In addition, the pear season is also slightly earlier, which pushes volumes further up and places extra pressure on port operations.”

Rabe said they believe that, as an industry, they have done everything they can to assist and support Transnet with accurate fruit flow projections and optimisation of the container flow into the port.

"But we have yet again been let down. This, despite repeated efforts, along with a visit in mid-December by Minister Pravin Gordhan to sensitise management and labour as to the needs of our industry and the complexities surrounding the peak season.

“This led to various operational and strategic-level engagements with Transnet, which included the landlord, container and multi-purpose terminal operators,” said Rabe.

He said Hortgro and the other industry associations were considering legal action against Transnet given that it was directly responsible for losses at the farm level and for the impact on the profitability of the industry, the risk of job losses and the consequent destabilisation of rural communities.

Jacques Moolman, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, previously stated that the port's congestion crisis was substantial and well documented.

“The most recent study estimates that by 2026, the annual loss to the fiscus in terms of lost export opportunities would be around R2 billion at a cost of more than 19 000 jobs, and what is less commonly known is the huge behind-the-scenes effort to resolve the crisis involving multiple stakeholders,” he said.

Cape Town Container Terminal (CTCT) regional corporate affairs and stakeholder manager Andiswa Mesatywa said she worked closely with all stakeholders, including Hortgro, where the performance of the terminal and continuous improvement initiatives that were in place were discussed in detail.

“CTCT is in no position to comment on the consideration by Hortgro as nothing has been officially communicated to the terminal,” said Mesatywa.

She said since the start of the deciduous season, which ran from November to March every year, CTCT has been engaging with all industry stakeholders, including Gordhan.

Gordhan, Transnet acting chief executive Michelle Phillips and Transnet Port Terminals chief executive Jabu Mdaki were in attendance from time to time to provide support.

The legislature said Transnet would be invited to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance, Economic Opportunities and Tourism to provide feedback on the struggles the Port of Cape Town faced during the table grape and stone fruit export season.

“The port's performance has been well below par over the last month, with delays of up to three weeks reported in getting produce to ships. This means that fruit spends too much time in cold chambers, potentially affecting the quality and making it unfit for foreign markets,” said Cayla Murray, MPP-DA Western Cape spokesperson on Finance, Economic Opportunities and Tourism.

“The goal of this meeting will be to compile a report that can be submitted to Transnet and assist them in fixing the port.

“A world-class Port of Cape Town will hasten broad economic development and job creation in the province. It is thus of the utmost importance that the issues at the port are urgently addressed,” said Murray.

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