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Currently, the industry is in a very precarious position with the current operational status of the Cape Town (CT) port.  The industry, and country, is losing millions of Rands on a daily basis due to inefficiencies resulting in berthing delays similar to what we experienced at the height of lockdown regulations last year.

It is a complicated issue with some factors outside the control of port management, whilst problems in other ports such as Durban, also have a knock-on effect on Cape Town. Others, such as labour levels and the functionality of equipment, are however manageable, and some proactive measures could have prevented at least some of the problems. Hortgro and its sister industry bodies have been in constant communication with the port authorities to assess and agree to measures to rectify short term problems and to assist in getting the port productivity back to acceptable levels.

How did we get here?

A series of events gave rise to the crisis we are in:

  • Unreliable equipment in the CT port due to years of not renewing and re-investing in equipment and infrastructure and/or proper maintenance thereof. The fresh fruit export volumes of major commodities have increased significantly over the last 5-years adding to the pressure on existing infrastructure and ageing equipment.
  • Productivity in the terminal. Absenteeism, staff on sick leave and normal leave were at unacceptable levels during December, exacerbated by Covid and the fourth wave.
  • Wind and fog delays directly translate into shipping delays.
  • A power outage was experienced in certain areas of Cape Town, including the port during December.
  • The newly introduced truck booking system is causing issues, specifically for recovery after delays.

The above-mentioned factors all culminated in a perfect storm that we are finding ourselves in and the subsequent delays. We are of the opinion that there is light in the tunnel and that improvements will be visible in the next few days.

Industries’ involvement

The Cape Town Port and logistical challenges experienced remains a top priority in Hortgro. Numerous actions together with other industry associations (SATI, FPEF, CGA, BerriesZA, FruitSA), have been taken to address the situation. These include weekly operational meetings with the management of Transnet and the CT terminal involving other stakeholders ranging from the freight forwarders, truckers, exporters, packhouses, cold stores, shipping lines, Western Cape government and PPECB to discuss operational issues and contingency measures. Similar meetings take place for the other ports as well. These issues were also escalated to the ministerial level to raise awareness of the situation and call for greater action to remedy and ensure accountability for the situation.

The top management of Hortgro, SATI, AgBiz and FPEF met earlier this week with the CEO of Transnet and her top management, including those at the CT terminal. It was a frank and robust discussion with the acknowledgement that the CT port’s performance was totally unacceptable during December and that a repeat can never be allowed again. This discussion was followed up (week 3) to assess if the agreed actions are having the desired effect. One of the measurements of productivity in the port is the crane moves per hour (GCH). During most of December, it barely reached 15, whereas a bare minimum for the CT terminal should be more than 20 moves per hour.

Transnet assured us that they will pull out all the stops, address the labour issues, and catch up with maintenance to get back on track and clear the backlogs as soon as possible. It is trusted that an acceptable productivity level will consistently be maintained during the balance of the season. We have already seen an improvement and will from now on also receive a daily update on key parameters to jointly monitor the situation between industry and Transnet Ports Authority and Transnet Port Terminals.

Joining forces  

As we all (different fruit kinds and others) use the same ports we joined forces under FruitSA and formed a logistical committee to interrogate all aspects of the logistical chain and find sustainable solutions to these challenges. Some of them, like productivity and management, can be addressed over the short term, but others like equipment and infrastructure have longer lead times to resolve. Discussions have been initiated with Transnet to explore Public-Private Partnerships. These will however take some time to implement, but it’s on the table.

We appreciate Transnet’s willingness to continue engagement with its stakeholders and for the undertakings made in recent discussions. We believe we have built good relationships with the individuals who all wish to make a difference in the CT port specifically. We fully comprehend the financial losses to growers, the anger, emotions, and frustrations with the inability to timeously get fruit to the market. We would like to assure our members that we will continue our efforts in addressing this situation over the short and long term to secure the sustainability of the South African pome and stone fruit growers and the communities we serve.

Additional reading – Transnet commits to address the port congestion:


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