Fruit farmers and exporters are growing increasingly frustrated with the state-owned logistics company, Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA). After four years of struggling with the movement of their produce through the container terminal at the Port of Cape Town, they are now contemplating taking legal action against the company.

By Telegram Reporter

Hortgro and other industry associations are considering taking legal action against Transnet to recoup the financial losses they have suffered due to the recent delays at the Port of Cape Town. These delays have had a significant negative impact on the export of cargo over the past few months, prompting Hortgro and other associations to explore their options for seeking compensation.

“Cape Town is not the only port in the world facing wind challenges. Experts from outside ought to be involved. Industry has offered to assist financially to bring in foreign expertise, but the assistance has not been accepted,” reads Hortgro’s communique.

The letter says because of this, Hortgro and other industry groups are thinking about going to court to get Transnet to pay them because the TNPA is directly responsible for the repeated loss of revenue.

Anton Rabe, the executive director of Hortgro, expressed disappointment that Transnet did not fulfil most of its promises, including providing additional equipment, improving maintenance, ensuring availability of spare parts, better operational planning, and adequate labour during the Christmas and New Year period.

He also mentioned that wind delays, which are expected, led to backlogs at the beginning of the peak weeks for stone fruit and table grape export seasons. Additionally, the pear season starting earlier has increased volumes and added pressure on port operations.

“This, coupled with wind delays, which are expected, resulted in starting our peak weeks of the stone fruit and table grape export seasons with backlogs that are yet to be cleared. In addition, the pear season is also slightly earlier, which pushes volumes further up and places extra pressure on port operations,” said Rabe.

Rabe stated that they feel they have made every effort as an industry to help and support Transnet by providing accurate predictions for fruit flow and optimising container flow into the port. However, they have once again been disappointed, despite repeated attempts and a visit by Minister Pravin Gordhan in mid-December to raise awareness among management and labour about the industry’s needs and the challenges of the peak season. This resulted in several discussions with Transnet at operational and strategic levels, involving the landlord, container, and multi-purpose terminal operators, according to Rabe.

Transnet’s commitments to acquire more equipment, enhance maintenance of current equipment, guarantee the availability of spare parts, improve planning, and ensure adequate staffing during the holiday season were not fulfilled, as reported by Hortgro.

“We have yet again been let down. This, despite repeated efforts, along with a visit in mid-December by Minister Pravin Gordhan to sensitise management and labour as to the needs of our industry and the complexities surrounding the peak season.

“This led to various operational and strategic-level engagements with Transnet, which included the landlord, container and multi-purpose terminal operators,” Rabe stated.

He stated that the industry is exploring different legal avenues, including the possibility of initiating a class-action lawsuit against Transnet. However, it recognized that pursuing this course of action would be intricate, protracted, and costly.

“What is critical at this stage is that there must be consequences and accountability for poor performance.”

Wolfe Braude, the manager of the Fruit Desk at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz), expressed the urgency of the situation within the industry and the collaborative efforts with Transnet to address the challenges while maintaining exports. He highlighted the ongoing discussions with Transnet to identify potential improvements within the next two to six weeks, coinciding with the peak of the export season.

Braude welcomed the comprehensive support from senior Transnet management, following positive engagements, and the recent acquisition of seven additional rubber-tyred gantry cranes. However, he emphasized the need for swift agreement and integration of these improvements as fruit continues to be delivered from the farms.

This is the fourth consecutive year that farmers and exporters have grappled with the repercussions of port failures, leading to severe financial strain for many. Braude also underscored the non-financial implications, noting that South Africa’s reputation as a dependable fruit exporter is at stake. He expressed concerns about the growing apprehension among international buyers regarding the reliability of South African fruit shipments.

The potential damage to South Africa’s reputation could have significant economic consequences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *