South Africa would spend R10,3-billion over the next five years to improve equipment and infrastructure at its major ports, Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) CEO Tau Morwe said.

Speaking at the Africa Ports and Harbours congress, in Sandton, he stated that the utility had invested close to R2-billion in the 2007 financial year in port terminals, and that it had budgeted over R3-billion to deal with infrastructure backlogs.

This was a significant increase on the R400-million that it had invested in ports infrastructure in 2000/1.

For African ports to “stay ahead of the game” and ensure that they do not incur congestion surcharges, adequate capacity should be created ahead of demand. “Hence, at Transnet level, the emphasis is on investment in infrastructure, both on the rail side, and on the port side,” Morwe said.

“Within South Africa, the focus is on ensuring that from a corridor perspective, both rail and port, there is adequate inte- gration, adequate investments to ensure we meet the growth.”

Morwe added that at Durban Port, Transnet had seen a number of shipping lines moving containers from road to rail; however, in order for that to be done, the utility would need to ensure that the supply chain remained reliable.

Transnet was conducting an ongoing study to assess where to locate new container capacity to cope with the increasing demand. Durban Port was experiencing container growth levels of 10% to 12%.

“If you look at where we were in 2000/1, and where we are right now, I can safely say that we are beginning to meet that demand and the key is ensuring that adequate capacity is created ahead of demand,” affirmed Morwe.

He added that, in 2008, South Africa’s terminal utilisation was about 78%, which meant that as the growth in containers took off, there would be pressure on ensuring that demand was met.

Port congestion was mainly caused by “lacking superstructure”, such as the number of cranes, so, while there could be congestion on the water side, “what we are now beginning to see in Durban is congestion on the land side rather than on the water side – trucks queuing all over the roads in Durban,” Morwe said.

The lack in rail capacity or rail infrastructure also contributed to congestion and, depending on how integrated the supply chain was, that could also result in con- gestion, and in some cases low productivity levels at ports.