A burning warehouse near Durban, July 14 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD
A burning warehouse near Durban, July 14 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD

State rail and port monopoly Transnet’s harbours in violence-ravaged KwaZulu-Natal are slowly recovering after days of disruption, but the key railway supplying Durban remains closed, the company said on Friday.

Durban and Richards Bay are major import and export ports, with large movements of containers, bulk commodities such as coal and chrome ore, and general freight passing through them.

Transnet has cleared all shipping backlogs at Richards Bay, which is predominantly a bulk commodity export facility and hosts one of the world’s biggest coal terminals, while operations at Durban “continue to improve”.

Operations have been severely disrupted by the violence, looting and arson that swept through the province after former president Jacob Zuma was jailed last week for contempt of the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country.

“Service levels in the ports of Durban and Richards Bay have improved slightly since the start of Thursday working shifts, as the country begins mop-up operations after protest action over the past few days,” said Ayanda Shezi, Transnet spokesperson.

“Port and terminal operations are slowly beginning to normalise as the number of employees reporting for shifts starts to increase following restoration of public transport in parts of KwaZulu-Natal,” she said.

At Durban harbour, difficulties in returning to full operations remained, with road closures in the area constraining truck access into and out of the port, resulting in backlogs. At Richards Bay, trucking is operational.

The government has sent troops to KwaZulu-Natal to bolster stretched police services that have largely been ineffective in stopping rampant looting of malls, warehouses, industrial parks and businesses.

The violence has led to shortages of food, medicines and fuel in the province and sparked panic buying in others.

Transnet also owns and operates a pipeline that moves petrol and diesel from Durban to inland hubs. This has been unaffected by the orchestrated violence and looting that swept through KwaZulu-Natal.

The country’s largest source of fuel, SA Petroleum Refineries (Sapref), jointly owned by Shell and BP, shut on Tuesday because of the violence in Durban. With its capacity of 180,000 barrels a day, the plant supplies a third of SA’s daily fuel consumption.

The biggest constraint has remained road access to Durban from Gauteng, the industrial heartland of SA, with the N3 freeway severely disrupted by attacks on trucking and the burning of vehicles.

About four-fifths of cargo is hauled by road between the two destinations because of the unreliability of the rail network. which Transnet calls Natcor.

“On the rail side, work is under way to restart the suspended Natcor line. However, this has been delayed by the need to clear remnants of the looting activities strewn along the railway,” Shezi said.

“Testing of the line is being undertaken to ensure it is safe. Transnet continues to monitor the situation and will resume rail services on this critical line as soon as it is safe to do so,” she said.

Organised business in the form of Business Unity SA has pleaded with the government to reopen the freeway, using an increased presence of soldiers and police to secure the key route so that food and medicines can be transported again.

Busa estimates up to R12bn worth of businesses and infrastructure has been damaged and it criticised the state’s handling of the crisis as inadequate.

seccombea@businesslive.coza

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