South Africa is facing many challenges, but those in freight logistics are among the most serious, says industry association South African Association of Freight Forwarders national maritime consultant Dave Watts.
He adds that the freight forwarding industry faces daily challenges in attempting to ensure the smooth and economic transport of goods to and from the harbours.
“Other than dry and liquid bulk commodities and motor vehicles, containers carry the vast majority of general freight to and from South Africa. For some time, the performance of our container terminals and State-controlled logistics companies has not been fit for purpose in a number of areas.”
Watts points out that serious road congestion into the two main Durban container terminals is a regular occurrence, with trucks often having to wait for hours to be serviced and unloaded. This can be attributed to low productivity at the terminal, covert industrial action, equipment shortages, breakdowns, constant management changes and weather, he explains.
“This situation has become a part of Durban life, as commuters are regularly warned to avoid the access roads in the south Durban basin, owing to truck queues.”
Subsequently, improved access is required to the area where far too many depots, terminals and tank farms are being serviced by one access road, he adds.
Watts notes that the rail industry “has singularly failed to increase its uptake of traffic to and from Durban”, resulting in an ever-increasing demand for trucks. Besides the various reasons for the industry’s poor performance, he highlights that there appears to be no real motivation on the part of rail company Transnet to address its low market share of about 20% in all import and export container traffic, excluding transshipments.
Moreover, he notes that the recent situation at the Port of Ngqura and the Port of Port Elizabeth, both in the Eastern Cape, was untenable, as poor decision-making regarding equipment and an apparent “go-slow” had an “enormous” impact on the automotive industry and the burgeoning citrus export trade. Currently, however, this situation has been resolved to some extent.
“As a result, the citrus export trade is being forced to truck containers to Durban or Cape Town, as vessels have to wait for days to berth or they decide to bypass the ports altogether.”
Other issues facing forwarders, importers and exporters are State organisations’ interference in attempting to oversee imports, says Watts.
“The border police, who are poorly equipped and have limited border control systems or customs knowledge have taken on some of the responsibility that would normally be that of customs.”
He notes that the veterinary, health and specification control departments, among others, all have some essential element of involvement, but are often poorly equipped or managed.
“Customs have developed modern electronic data interchange systems that can allow for proper oversight, but their services are often not used by other State organisations or there is no interfacing between State organisations resulting in duplicated, pointless and expensive inspections,” he concludes.