The time currently wasted at the Durban port, owing to poor performance and inefficiency, is having a direct impact on employment generation, poverty reduction and economic growth in South Africa, says Martin Humphreys, the global lead for transport connectivity and regional integration at the World Bank’s transport global knowledge unit.
“Quite honestly, [South African ports] are just not efficient enough.”
Humphreys’ remarks follow the May release of the World Bank report, ‘The Container Port Performance Index 2020, A Comparable Assessment of Container Port Performance’.
The report placed the performance of South Africa’s Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Ngqura ports, all managed by parastatal Transnet, in the bottom five out of a list of 351 ports globally.
To put this in perspective, all African ports, such as Lagos, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, Maputo, Beira, Walvis Bay and Dakar, ranked above South Africa’s – in some cases ranking well above South African ports, an example being Dakar, at number 120.
“One of the things that came out of the rankings is the comparative standing of South African ports relative to other ports in the world,” says Humphreys.
“I think that it is very different from 15, 20 years ago. If you asked me ten years ago which was the best port on the sub-Saharan African continent, I would have said Durban.
“Now that is far from the truth and it is having a direct impact on the cost of trade.
“One figure that has come out of some of the empirical work we have done in the past is that if you double the efficiency of a port, it has the equivalency of halving the physical distance between you and a key trading partner,” notes Humphreys. “Think about that for a bit.”
Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) performance enablement and management information systems executive manager Bradley Augustine believes equipment-related problems to be a key challenge at South African ports.
“If this is addressed in a sustainable fashion, many of the problems facing Transnet’s ports can be resolved.
“The key problem is equipment – the availability and reliability of equipment makes a phenomenal difference in terms of overall operational performance. If that can be addressed and sustained, then I think a lot of problems can be solved and the performance improved.
“I think TPT has the ability to resolve these problems.”
According to the Container Port Performance Index 2020, maritime transport accounts for more than 80% of global merchandise trade by volume, “with any impediment or friction at ports to have tangible repercussions for their respective hinterlands and populations”.
A significant and growing portion of that trade volume, accounting for about 35% of total volumes and more than 60% of commercial value, is carried by containers.
This first iteration of the World Bank report used data up to the end of the first six months of 2020, and includes ports that, within a six-month period in the prior 12 months, had a minimum of ten valid port calls.
Reform on the Cards
President Cyril Ramaphosa in June announced the establishment of the National Ports Authority as an independent, wholly owned subsidiary of Transnet in terms of the National Ports Act.
This is to act as a “significant reform of the transport sector that will enable the modernisation and transformation of South Africa’s ports system”.