On 6 December 2023, Western Cape Agricultural Minister, Ivan Meyer, met with key stakeholders within the agricultural sector regarding the grave and deeply concerning situation at the Port of Cape Town (PoCT). The purpose of the meeting was to hear directly from the industry and to better understand the impact the inefficiencies and failures at the PoCT were having on agricultural exports.
Minister Meyer said, “I am deeply concerned about the failures at the PoCT and the significant impact it is having on agricultural exports. This week’s meeting offered our agriculture sector the opportunity to outline the challenges, highlight the severity of the crisis in the PoCT and discuss possible ways forward to improve the situation on the eve of the peak export season for our fruit industry.”
According to Glen Steyn of the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, cargo volumes at the PoCT are growing and have the potential to increase by 26% over the next five years, but the capacity to move perishable cargo on time is worsening dramatically.
While stakeholders noted the work being done by Transnet’s National Logistics Crisis Committee (NLCC), their deep concern was that the NLCC’s focus has been largely on rail and may not be indicative of the challenges faced at ports and container terminals across the country servicing agricultural products. This, even though the evidence showcases the potential positive impact of agriculture through value added to the economy, fiscus and jobs.
Glen Steyn stated, “The growth in agricultural exports could potentially create another 20,000 jobs and generate R22 billion for the fiscus from PoCT. This potential, however, is being undermined by the slipping capacity at the PoCT. The target is that the PoCT moves fifty (50) containers per vessel per hour. The current performance is 24 – 25 per hour – half of what it should be. The terminal is unable to manage the normal flow of 1 000 – 1 500 containers from our fruit producers per week and when the demand doubles to 3 200 during the peak season which is between December and March, we fear that the terminal will collapse.”
Anton Rabe of Hortgro highlighted that for the fruit industry delays lead to severe quality penalties. It is estimated that R2.5 billion was lost over the last season, and the table grape industry suffered just over R1billion losses in the 2021/22 season alone. Anton Rabe said, “There is currently a disconnect regarding the realities of the perishable fruit industry and a lack of understanding for the impact that the inefficiencies at the PoCT are having on farms, jobs and rural communities.”
Wolfe Braude, Fruit Desk Manager at Agbiz, highlighted the economic value of primary agriculture in South Africa. “Fruit exports which include categories such as citrus, deciduous and grapes together are higher in value than manganese or chrome exports. Agri exports in total are twice the value of South Africa’s machinery exports and slightly higher in value than South Africa’s automotive exports. The whole value chain, with all the support services around the modern, industrialised South African agricultural sector, are estimated to comprise up to 15% of South Africa’s GDP, all flowing from primary agriculture”, he added. This does not diminish the value of these other sectors but rather underlines the need to treat agricultural challenges with significant urgency and priority.
Stakeholders cautiously welcomed the news that the national Minister of Public Enterprises would be visiting the PoCT next week, however with the crisis at the port having severe repercussions for the agriculture industry it is critical that Transnet acts with urgency now.
It is essential that Minister Gordhan gets the full picture of what is happening at the port and why it is in such a poor state.
Minister Meyer said, “We note the news that Minister Gordhan is interested in understanding the full value chain and the impact severe inefficiencies and failures are having on the fruit exports. We note the announcement that an additional berth has been opened at the PoCT which we hope will ease some of the pressure. However, our grave concerns remain that the PoCT will not be able to meet the needs of our agricultural sector which relies heavily on an efficient port.”
“Worldwide the private sector is playing a more prominent role in the management of ports. We see no reason why the PoCT cannot be managed similarly. Greater involvement of the private sector in the PoCT will be in the interest of the agricultural industry and the economy. Our Growth for Jobs strategy supports the need for greater private involvement in the port,” concluded Minister Meyer.
Spokesperson for Minister Ivan Meyer