Two tugboats manoeuvre the MSC Sola towards the container berth in the Port of Ngqura. File photo: THE HERALD/FREDLIN ADRIAAN
Two tugboats manoeuvre the MSC Sola towards the container berth in the Port of Ngqura. File photo: THE HERALD/FREDLIN ADRIAAN

The year 2021 was preceded by a tough and painful year. The past year was characterised by events that defied both spiritual and economic predictions, resulting in death and stunted economic growth. It extinguished any flickering hope for economic recovery as many people lost their jobs and livelihoods during the ensuing economic recession.

This situation inspired us to put in place economic reconstruction and recovery plan for our economy to attract investments to enable companies to improve operational performance, enhance profitability and create jobs for the people of our country. We welcome the willingness of the private sector to be involved in this work. 

The Eastern Cape does not have many industries, so we rely more on public sector investment to help us knockout the socioeconomic challenges that stunt growth by injecting money to revive our provincial economy. 

We benefited from government policy instruments that funded two of our best-performing special economic zones in East London and Port Elizabeth where we built modern factories for companies supplying global markets. 

Through the department of trade, industry & competition’s investment incentives and our own financial instruments, we attracted top-notch investors to set base in our province while some leading global brands continue producing products in their factories in the Eastern Cape with our support. 

We are on a growth path and for that to succeed, we need additional capital investment by the government into the provincial economy to lift our economy to a higher productivity level and higher growth trajectory.

This ANC-led government developed policies aimed at growing our economy, injected money to various elements of our economy that include economic infrastructure to make it easy for companies to do business in our country, to attract investments and create jobs.

In his state of the nation address in 2003, President Thabo Mbeki announced the construction of Ngqura (Coega) port and concessioning of the Durban Container Terminal as some of key economic infrastructure projects.  

President Mbeki told journalist Vuyo Mvoko that the government was to “concession some parts of the port (Port of Durban), to make sure that you put in new investment in the port to reduce [the] costs of moving goods in and out of that port and to increase the speed at which you do it”.

In his 2005 budget speech, former finance minister Trevor Manuel identified “completion of the Port of Ngqura, upgrading of the Coallink line to Richards Bay and the Sishen-Saldanha link, a new container terminal for Durban and port capacity expansion in Cape Town, Richards Bay and Saldanha, and the building of a new multipurpose Durban-Johannesburg-Pretoria fuel product pipeline” as significant projects of government. 

In line with the government position that “expanding the capacity of all ports was crucial to enhancing the country’s economy”, this capital investment transformed the capacity of the Port of Durban into a “hub port for neighbouring countries” and increased the port’s capacity to handle more and larger ships, continuing to contribute to growing our economy. 

As a result of this government decision, in the past eight years Transnet injected R18.4bn capital investment in the KwaZulu-Natal province, while it invested only R7.3bn in the Eastern Cape. According to public information from Transnet, “R6bn of the total NatCor and Richards Bay Corridor capital investment was geared towards maintaining port facilities, while the balance was spent towards sustaining and expanding capacity to provide security of supply for the fuel and petroleum sector”.

Transnet invested less money into the Eastern Cape economy to contribute towards economic growth than in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape. The government never committed to invest only in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape, it committed to expand the capacity of all ports, including those in the Eastern Cape, to enhance the country’s economy.

Part of this means, having pushed the Port of Durban to be the world-class facility that it is now, it is time to direct huge capital investments to the Port of Ngqura, Port of East London for the benefit of the Eastern Cape economy. The relocation does not mean the government is closing down the Port of Durban. 

This relocation brings new economic opportunities for the country’s sluggish economy because a huge capital injection will bring additional capacity to handle more ships, move clients’ cargo faster and reduce backlogs in other ports that have too much traffic. We are in talks with leading manufacturers across key sectors of the economy who will now use the Port of Ngqura for sending and receiving their goods.  

The government’s long-term investment in both Richards Bay and Durban buoyed the economy of the entire province, and both cities still enjoy benefits of this huge capital injection. 

We welcomed Transnet National Ports Authority’s decision to relocate their head office to the Port of Ngqura because of the huge economic spin-offs for Eastern Cape’s economy. We are happy that Transnet is implementing a decision taken more than 10 years ago in a way that shows their confidence in the economy of the Eastern Cape. 

Now that they are implementing this progressive and developmental decision, we are optimistic that they will be motivated to implement some of their decisions, also taken years ago, to inject huge capital investments into the Eastern Cape. 

Part of that investment includes expansion of the Port of East London, investment into the rail network, revamping other economic assets of the group that include gas, energy infrastructure and a property portfolio in the province to stimulate growth of the provincial economy, create jobs, attract investments and fight poverty. 

Speaking during our provincial government lekgotla, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “As the provincial leadership, working with national government, we need to reverse these migration patterns by deliberately investing in the Eastern Cape so it becomes a centre of work and economic opportunity.” 

We agree with this and are working with the national government departments and agencies to ensure that provinces like the Eastern Cape that have been neglected for years in terms of investments will now benefit from economic reconstruction programme. 

• Mabuyane is Eastern Cape premier and ANC provincial chair. 

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