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Focus on SADC countries is crucial for South Africa says Transnet CEO

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg
Posted on Monday, 17 August 2020 18:27

TRANSNET's Blue Train against a backdrop of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/TRANSNET)

Transnet is shifting its focus to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), but commitments in Nigeria and Ghana remain priorities, says group CEO Portia Derby.  

“Within the next year or so, we should be coming up with an indication of how we plan to push in that direction,” says Derby.

However, that does not mean work in the West African countries will take a backseat. The projects in Nigeria are in the exploratory phases. “Ghana is important, and if we are able to close on the project, that’s a project we will continue to work on,” clarifies the Transnet CEO.

But “the intent with the strategy is to be focused on SADC,” she explains.

“Our strategy going forward is going to be one of deepening concentration and specialising in SADC,” adds Derby.

Increasing concentration among SADC countries is crucial for South Africa. “Most of us now accept the fact that, for South Africa to grow, our neighbourhood also needs to be growing,” according to the Transnet boss, who took over in January 2020.

READ MORE South Africa: Transnet rolls with rest of the continent

“With all of its difficulties, the North-South Corridor remains a priority,” she says.

The Africa Report has previously reported about the significance of the North-South Corridor, which links the mining areas of the Katanga region in the Eastern DRC.

READ MORE Ghana alive with possibilities for South Africa’s Transnet

The corridor includes the copper belt regions of Zambia. It goes all the way through to Zimbabwe and SADC ports Durban and Richards Bay. It is the central spine which runs through SADC and is vital for the region’s logistics value chain.

Hub approach

There is much work ahead to deepen efforts on SADC. This begins in South Africa:

  • With reference to China’s One Belt One Road Project, for example, “there is virtually nothing that comes to South Africa. If you look at the vessel flows, you see that we’ve got vessels in South Africa but it’s not as dense as it would be in Europe.”
  • “We need to get a lot more transhipment volumes coming into South Africa and bigger vessels, so that we are able to become a real hub for SADC. I think it is quite crucial that we get there,” says Derby.

Preparing for a new normal

When the coronavirus started spreading, Transnet got in touch with counterparts in Singapore, specifically PSA Singapore.

“[We] asked them to get us on side in terms of how they had dealt with [COVID-19]. … In December, they were dealing with what looked like a flu. That was useful because it gave us a bit of a head start. We set up a command centre,” reveals Derby.

“We are now around the tactical horizon, where we are embedding the new normal. In fact, we are in the process of dismantling the command centre as it was, and then looking at how we make that part of our regular practice of work inside Transnet,” she adds.

The Transnet CEO does concede it was tough going in the beginning, when the state-owned freight and rail company experienced challenges at Cape Town Port during the start of the citrus season. But the company was able to overcome the hurdles.

In turn, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of South Africa’s ports.

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