It would no longer be business as usual at the Port of Durban, Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) CE Nozipho Sithole told the Transport Forum’s special interest group meeting, in Durban, on Thursday.
Conceding that TPT was not yet where it wanted to be in terms of efficiency, consistency or productivity, she came under fire from members of the trucking and shipping industries as she candidly declared that she did not wish to shy away from admitting that the State-owned entity had a long way to go when it came to reducing the cost of doing business in South Africa while, at the same time, grasping international business and integrating South African ports with the rest of Africa.
“We need to start listening more. We need to start creating solutions for our customers that take into account the fact that they want to be competitive . . . We need to take the lead in terms of building the infrastructure that is required so that we can offer value-added services across the supply chain.”
Emphasising Transnet’s mandate to reduce the cost of doing business, she insisted that “tariff growth is not going to work”. Instead, faster turnarounds of vessels and trains at both sea and inland ports would make a difference.
Sithole asserted that Transnet’s endeavours to change the way it did business were not pie in the sky.
TPT had moved away from just providing handling services at sea ports to also operating inland terminals.
Chrome was now loaded at source and railed to the Richards Bay port as was manganese in the Northern Cape for export through Port Elizabeth. Both were examples of connecting with the hinterland and providing a supply chain based service, she pointed out.
She said it was time to focus on shifting cargo from road to rail, which made sense not only from an environmental point of view, but also to protect road infrastructure and achieve economies of scale as rail was able to move larger volumes.
“But we don’t want to banish trucks from the road. There is a first mile, last mile [approach] – few trains can deliver at your door so the last mile becomes important in order to make sure that the consumer gets those commodities,” she said.
Sithole explained that a shift in the Transnet business model made it important for the parastatal to include the private sector in its operations. She noted that a recent agreement would see Agri Bulk Services run agricultural terminals in the ports of Durban and Richards Bay.
A second example of private sector partnership was an agreement to run an edible oil terminal at Maydon Wharf. A second terminal in the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone would also see a private sector operator facilitate the import of palm oil from Central Africa.
This was also an example of Transnet venturing into new areas of business, she said.
Sithole said TPT had also brought in a global terminal operator to work in the container terminal at Ngqura. This would ensure that extra capacity was utilised and result in skills transfer.
She said better operational planning was imperative and, starting last year, war rooms had been created for operating centres in the Port of Durban to improve operational efficiencies. This included port, rail, terminal and customer representatives.
Improvements had resulted from joint planning and this would be rolled out to other ports in due course.
She pointed out that Transnet was currently extremely asset heavy. However, the longer-term vision was for the entity to be asset light and to be a service provider.
At present, she said a key focus was creating a high performance culture within the organisation.
She said attempts to root out corruption had created a great deal of uncertainty among employees. “The trick for us is to do it quickly so that we can then continue to provide services.”