Africa View

Durban’s billion dollar port project takes advantage of its strategic spot

CNN  — 

Stretching for nearly 3,000 kilometers, South Africa’s coastline encompasses both the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Dotted along the shore are eight commercial ports which play a vital role in the country’s economy. They are responsible for shifting 96% of South Africa’s exports, and receive trade from both the western and eastern hemisphere.

The largest among them is Durban, Africa’s second busiest harbor after Egypt’s Port Said. Its strategic position on the world shipping routes means it’s South Africa’s premier port, handling roughly 60% of the country’s cargo.

Massive growth

Durban’s container traffic has long been steadily rising, growing 18% in the course of last year alone. This has led the country’s authorities to commit to an ambitious multi-billion dollar project to expand the port, which could turn it into southern hemisphere’s largest.

Under new plans, the harbor will be wider, deeper, and able to handle more than four times the number of containers than in its current capacity. The municipality hopes that this will provide a much needed boost to the local economy and go some way to alleviate youth unemployment, which in South Africa stands at a staggering 51.3%.

Expansion plans also include catering to tourist cruise liners that make Durban a stop in their itineraries. Presently, the congested traffic means that once ships reach Durban movement along the lanes is slow, but authorities think that expansion will help solve the problem.

“We will be moving this to a new site where a container terminal will dovetail with the entertainment precinct,” Durban Port manager Moshe Motlohi told South Africa’s Engineering News. “Passengers will then be able to access uShaka Marine World (an entertainment complex) and the beachfront. We want this to sell Durban,” he added.

Heart of South African economy

The port is crucially important to South Africa’s economy as it is directly connected to the country’s road and rail network, and it’s also located in the vicinity of the city’s commercial heart. It’s seen as a major draw for the investment in the region, with the government saying that manufacturing firms such as Toyota South Africa choose Durban as their location precisely due to the port’s presence.

The harbor’s importance is not limited to the movement of cargo alone. Durban’s port and related businesses employ 50,000 people, and the city’s governing body estimates that sailors and other ship personnel spend around $1.6 million per year when they arrive in Durban on their cargo vessels.

The monumental expansion plans have not been without controversy, however, with environmental activists saying that extensive works will damage the delicate eco-system of Durban bay, home to fish nurseries and sand prawns.

But the port also serves the Southern African Development Community’s landlocked countries, and with the fact that 90% of Africa’s trade is conducted via the sea, the project is seen as of vital economic importance to the wider region.