Ramaphosa’s plan to fix Durban cautiously welcomed

Minister of Trade and Industry Ibrahim Patel, President Cyril Ramaphosa and CEO and Founder of Newlyn Park Bayhead Rail Terminal facility Rajendra Balmakhun during the official opening on Thursday. | Khaya Ngwenya Independent Newspapers

Minister of Trade and Industry Ibrahim Patel, President Cyril Ramaphosa and CEO and Founder of Newlyn Park Bayhead Rail Terminal facility Rajendra Balmakhun during the official opening on Thursday. | Khaya Ngwenya Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 7, 2024


Durban — Although President Cyril Ramaphosa’s initiative to fix Durban has been met with electioneering scepticism, local business associations have welcomed the move.

They are hoping that his Presidential eThekwini Working Group (PEWG) will take the city back to its former glory. Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that he has established the group. Ramaphosa was in the city, which despite raking in billions of rands in revenue from businesses and residential ratepayers, has many decaying buildings, littered streets, water cuts and polluted beaches.

The president’s visit was to officially open the multibillion-rand Newlyn Park Bayhead Rail Terminal facility.

Ramaphosa said the PEWG, to be co-chaired by his office’s director-general Phindile Baleni and former economic development and tourism MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu, would work on revitalising the city’s infrastructure, including the Port of Durban.

He said local businesses would be part of the group, which would also feature Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube, Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, Transnet and the unions.

The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was concerned about the city’s economic decline due to poor water and sanitation, energy distribution, waste management, and parks infrastructure, welcomed the PEWG.

“We are confident that this platform will help reposition Durban as a favourable business destination.

“As organised business, we believe this is a step in the right direction. It is time we needed the intervention of the National Government to help solve the issues experienced locally. We are seeing implementation happen at a very slow pace by the eThekwini Municipality,” said chamber’s president Prasheen Maharaj.

Maharaj said the PEWG would provide an opportunity for all spheres of government and business to engage.

“For too long there has been misalignment in different spheres of government,” he said.

The Port of Durban has for a couple of years been marred by news of poor performance, which had led to massive backlogs of cargo not being collected or received on time and vessels and trucks forced to wait for longer than expected to either offload or load.

To improve the efficiency of the port, Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) announced late last year an R154 billion KZN Ports Master Plan to deepen and lengthen berths at Durban Container Terminal over a 5-year construction period starting this year “thereby reducing the queue of vessels waiting at anchorage and reliance of entering the channel at high tide.”

Delivering the keynote address at the Newlyn Park Bayhead Rail Terminal, Ramaphosa said he established the working group to address challenges facing the city because “we want Durban Port to return to its days of great glory”.

“To get eThekwini, to get the Durban Port to shine again, to go back to its glory days, to be the much-needed port in the world,” he said.

He said Baleni and Mabuyakhulu would have to report their progress to him timeously.

“I want the group to report back to me every three weeks to tell me exactly how we are repositioning eThekwini, how we are addressing the challenges at the Durban Port.

“All the problems and challenges that we have in this part of the country are now being addressed in a pointed way through collaboration, through everyone working together,” said Ramaphosa.

The eThekwini Maritime Cluster (EMC) said although the port was still facing challenges, “Transnet leadership has done a recommendable work in advancing and improving its operational state.”

EMC spokesperson Ngcebo Nxumalo said challenges at the port harmed the economy of the city and the province.

“These include increased costs for businesses due to delays in shipping, reduced competitiveness in global trade, and potential loss of investment opportunities.

“Furthermore, inefficiencies at the port can lead to disruptions in supply chains, affecting various industries and ultimately hindering economic growth. So, at all times we expect the port to be fully operational and with efficiency and go back to being the number one port in Africa,” said Nxumalo.

Emerging businessman Cedric Mhlongo, the managing director of the Bizniz Tech Africa, which is based in Phoenix, north of Durban, said small businesses should be part of the group to participate in fixing the city.

“They (PEWG) should give a clear program and plan of how the group is going to work. For now they are just talking about something that we don’t know,” he said.

Mhlongo was concerned that load shedding had collapsed many small businesses.

“Because when you have to meet deadlines load shedding disrupts your operations,” he said.

Senior econometrics lecturer at the University of Johannesburg Dr Ntokozo Nzimande expressed scepticism on Ramaphosa’s move saying this might be electioneering.

He said this might be a futile exercise like the appointment of Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa as the electricity minister to deal with load shedding whose performance, he said, has not improved the situation.

“Sometimes we don’t need these committees because sometimes they create such committees to create employment for their cadres.

“As it is the election time they want to be seen to be doing something. Right now there will be lots going on as people would want to be seen as if they are busy, but you will see the reality after the elections,” he said.

He doubted if the PEWG would continue with its work should the ANC lose the elections as “all parties have different strategies”.

He believed that eThekwini's infrastructure deteriorated over a period of time because of carelessness and corruption.

Sunday Tribune