The vast expanse of the ocean economy presents an enticing opportunity for maritime nations, offering the potential for abundant wealth and uncharted avenues for exploration. Within its depths lies the key to sustained economic prosperity and the emergence of limitless fortunes.

By Themba Khumalo

The ocean economy presents a lucrative opportunity for maritime nations worldwide, providing significant potential for sustainable economic expansion and the generation of wealth.

The ocean economy zone in South Africa covers an extensive area of 1.5 million square kilometres, with a coastline that spans approximately 3700 kilometres. Interestingly, this expansive zone exceeds the surface area of the country itself, which measures 1.22 million square kilometres.

The immense potential for stimulating economic growth lies within its vast oceans. Given the country’s strategic geographical location, with ocean borders on three sides, it is crucial to integrate coastal and ocean resources into any future development strategies. This calls for a comprehensive approach that extends beyond the traditional focus on land resources.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (2016), many countries with extensive coastlines and inland waterways have undertaken diverse initiatives in sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy, bio-prospecting, underwater mining, and other associated activities.

To capitalise on these opportunities, the South African government launched the Phakisa Initiative in 2014, a bold plan aimed at developing the ocean economy.

The government’s rationale for Operation Phakisa was to tap into the economic opportunities presented by South Africa’s oceans, with the potential to add up to R177 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2033 and generate between 800,000 and 1 million direct employment opportunities.

A comprehensive set of forty-seven initiatives were identified, which, upon implementation, would enhance the contribution of the ocean’s economy to the GDP and result in the creation of over 20,000 new direct jobs.

The government identified six key areas of growth in the Ocean economy through the Phakisa Initiative. These areas were to be taken advantage of to tackle poverty, unemployment, and inequality. The identified areas were Marine Transport and Manufacturing, Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, Marine Protection Services and Ocean Governance, Aquaculture, Small Harbours, and Coastal and Marine Tourism.

South Africa boasts a total of nine commercial ports, all under the management of the Transnet National Ports Authority and subject to the regulations outlined in the National Ports Authority Act of 2005. These ports fulfil a vital function by serving as the principal entry and exit points for the majority of imports and exports in both the country and the region.

The marine industry, like other sectors in the country, is currently suffering the same malaise. The infrastructure has gradually deteriorated, leaving it in a state of disrepair and lacking the necessary investment. Consequently, South Africa has fallen behind its global counterparts in terms of technological advancements and expertise required to produce cutting-edge vessels in today’s era.

The 2021 World Bank report brought to light a concerning issue regarding our ports, revealing them to be falling behind on the global stage. As crucial components of the South African supply chain, our ports are in urgent need of assistance to overcome the current state of disarray. Specifically, the port of Durban requires a resolute and skilled team to address the existing challenges and introduce much-needed efficiency into the system.

The ambitious Durban Dig Out Port (DDOP) has bitten the dust and disappeared. A project of this magnitude would have greased the wheels of job creation for the folks in eThekwini. The current leaders at the Department of Public Enterprise and Transnet have not only dropped the ball on running the ports, but they have also let the ship sail on their role in infrastructure development.

This unfortunate situation is exacerbating the economic distress of South Africa, which is currently in a critical condition. The manufacturing and resource sectors are facing severe difficulties, while a multitude of challenges are severely impacting the agricultural sector. A bold and visionary leadership must emerge to spearhead a transformative initiative that can be effectively executed.

The Durban Container Terminal, recently snatched up by an Asian private entity, is sailing along with a less-than-ideal fleet of straddle carriers. Instead of boasting over one hundred of these nifty machines, they are stuck with a measly fifty.

This shortage of port equipment is wreaking havoc on ship turnaround times, leaving our ports looking about as appealing as a soggy sandwich. To add insult to injury, our neighbours in Maputo and Walvis Bay are stepping up their game and boasting some serious growth in volumes. They are practically feasting on our lunch while we are left with crumbs.

As for the port of Richards Bay, it has become a traffic jam of trucks, causing chaos, fires, and road damage in recent years. These ports were never meant to handle the truck tsunami they are facing today.

As a devout disciple of common sense, I believe that for the ship to set sail and the train to stay on the tracks, a complete change in thinking is required at the helm – within the Department of Public Enterprises. Those sycophants who indulge in lofty rhetoric must now embrace a more pragmatic approach when it comes to tackling the challenges that plague Transnet. Mere superficial alterations, such as the creation of a fresh-faced TNPA board, will not be enough to quell the tempestuous waters that lie ahead.

I will say it again, the current fragmented approach to addressing issues within state-owned entities only leads to further setbacks and missed opportunities for success.

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