afrol News, 5 November - The South African transport and allied Workers Union (Satawu) claims government's push for port privatisation is based on false arguments and an undemocratic decision process. It today announces pickets, demonstrations, regional marches and legal action.
In particular the Durban port, the principal outlet of the country, has developed into "a major bottleneck to export trade," according to the Director-General of Public Enterprises, Sivi Gounden. Delays due to container loading problems had become "endemic earlier this year." The government therefore sees no other alternative than to "fast track the concessioning of the Durban Container Terminal," according to South African Minister of Public Enterprises, Jeff Radebe.
Unions admit that the vital Durban port could be more effective. But, "no proper research has been conducted into the causes of the current alleged inefficiencies of our ports," Satawu states, adding it is "100 percent convinced that the problems that do exist will not be resolved by simply turning operations to the private sector." If anything, many of these problems "may be exacerbated by private operators."
This uncritical push to privatise the ports was also against the agreed guideline of the National Framework Agreement on Restructuring State Assets (the NFA), according to the transporters' union.
The NFA had stated each enterprise must be subject to proper investigation: "The process will involve the assessment of socio-economic imperatives; a sectoral approach; and an Enterprise by enterprise case study focus," Satawu quoted the agreement, adding that the NFA also stated: "Ownership is not the determining factor for efficient operations."
The Ministry of Public Enterprises however already has engaged technical experts from the Canadian company CPCS Transcom - a world leader in the field of port restructuring and commercialisation - to advice on "the most effective mechanism for rivate sector involvement in port operations," according to Minister Radebe.
Further, according to the Ministry, there was a total trust in the Canadian consultants. "They have participated in numerous port restructuring programmes around the world, including six in Africa," says Mr Radebe. "We are confident they will help us achieve our goals".
Satawu, on the other hand, is outraged by the Rand 23 million (US$ 2.4 million) spent on the Canadian consultants, "most of which will come from the aid departments of the USA and the United Kingdom." Not only was this "a shameful waste of money when no preliminary research has been conducted locally," but it also raised "suspicions about the desire of the USA and UK governments" to prepare a buy-out of the Durban port, the trade union statement says.
It was "critical" that the National Ports Authority of South Africa - the owner and administrator of the country's major ports - continued "to operate what it currently operates," Satawu concludes. This was to "ensure that our ports play an increasingly developmental role in our economy."
- Port operations should not be driven by the profit motive alone, the union says. "They must fit into the objectives of creating jobs, keeping commodity prices down, promoting black economic empowerment and so on."
To keep the pressure high on the South African government, Satawu, along COSATU (where the union is affiliated), were to embark on new actions. The union announced pickets and demonstrations at ports, regional marches and seeking "a legal opinion on a possible constitutional court challenge to challenge unilateralism by government."
On 1 and 2 October, COSATU had organised a successful general strike to
protest privatisation, the union recalled. Government has however only
answered by enhancing the speed of the ports' privatisation.
Sources: SA government, SATAWU and afrol archives