afrol News, 24 October - Less than one month after the general strike against privatisation, the South African government announces it will "fast-track" the commercialisation of the country's ports. Private sector involvement was now "unavoidable", according to the government.
In May this year, Public Enterprises Minster, Jeff Radebe, announced in that the South African government would "fast track the concessioning of the Durban Container Terminal." Mr Radebe stated earlier this week that a team of international experts on port operations now had been appointed to advise government on the implementation phase.
A team of technical experts were to advise on "the most effective mechanism for private sector involvement in port operations," the Minister announced. The consultant consortium was to be led by the Canadian company CPCS Transcom, a world leader in the field of port restructuring and commercialisation. "They have participated in numerous port restructuring programmes around the world, including six in Africa," said Minister Radebe. "We are confident they will help us achieve our goals".
The Ministry's decision to forge ahead the Durban Port's privatisation is a slap in the face of South Africa's main trade union, COSATU. On 1-2 October, the unions organised a two-day general strike to express its "anger at the levels of poverty and unemployment and to oppose the government's policy of selling off essential services to private investors."
In particular the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) had been concerned about the ongoing round of privatisation, and the 100,000-members union were one of the principal initiators behind COSATU's general strike. Privatisation was "only adding to poverty and misery in our country," Satawu said in a statement, adding it feared massive job losses.
The Ministry of Public Enterprises on the other hand assures of the necessity to go ahead with privatisation. It was essential to "create a national commercial port system that was responsive to the national economic development framework, met the requirements of the port users and optimised the utilisation of the ports assets and resources," the Ministry states.
Also the Director-General of Public Enterprises, Sivi Gounden, confirms the necessity of the enhanced process to privatise the Durban port, which was "a major bottleneck to export trade." Delays due to container loading problems had become "endemic earlier this year."
The port's poor performance levels were going to have "severe cost implications," Mr Gounden warned. "What makes this situation even more frustrating is that, with our competitively priced rand, South Africa is experiencing increased demand for manufactured goods. This at a time when our ports are not able to cope with current workloads," the Director-General warns.
The decision to fast-track private sector involvement at the Durban port was therefore "unavoidable". Failure to do so would result in "further economic losses for the regional manufacturing sector and the economy as a whole. This would have led to a significant loss of jobs throughout the manufacturing and export supply chain."
Mr Gounden adds that the trade unions' concerns about possible job losses were unfounded. "In fact, I think jobs will be more secure, both inside and outside the port system. The bigger risk is job losses if we don't take action now," he concludes.
Transport workers at Satawu however remain sceptical. "No proper research has been conducted into the efficiency problems of our ports," Randall Howard, Satawu General Secretary says. "The problems are not ones that the private sector can automatically resolve," he adds, concluding that "port concessioning must be put on hold."
Sources: Based on South African govt, Satawu and afrol archives