Roberto CoelhoBy Roberto Coelho|February 21, 2022|5 Minutes|In Opinion


Any port in a storm.

Entrepreneurs are an optimistic bunch; they seem to see the silver lining and believe in the future.

In spite of this optimistic frame of mind, I recall on more than one occasion entrepreneurs fearing, warning, and shouting about the biggest problem facing South Africa-  bigger than the failing national power generator – Eskom. They fear Transnet.
It seems rather peculiar as Transnet – the country’s transport umbrella covering rails and ports – is so removed from ordinary life that without specific mention one may forget its existence.

As many are so removed from this space it is rather difficult to visualize why Transnet plays such a vital role to the South African entrepreneur. To understand, I contacted a national port expert and fellow entrepreneur, Terry Gale the chairman of The Exporters Club in the Western Cape.

“I’ve always lived with the idea that every problem has a solution and the world we live in has lots of problems,” he says.

Gale is a gentleman with a positive outlook on life and South Africa. He sees major potential in South Africa and believes there is a way to surf the economic waves the national ports face.

The World Bank placed all five South African ports in the worse ten performing ports globally, out of 351.

This ranking may be directly attributable to the mismanagement of funds and a lack of competency in central positions, according to the hearings into state corruption at the  Zondo commission.

Compounding the problem is outdated, un-serviced ,equipment creating large back logs which are exaggerated by poor systems and choking bureaucracy.

“Let’s say you drive a car, it was like the car wasn’t serviced for 10 years, you cannot expect to continue driving without a service,” says Gale.

The bad news doesn’t end there:  COVID made it all a lot worse.

“Everything came to an absolute stand still for three months. South African ports took a longer time to recover [from the pandemic] because of equipment challenges.”

As the COVID shock lifted, South Africa faced the worst riots in its democratic history in the middle of the year.

The final rock of the boat came in the form of a Transnet hack in July 2021, where all systems were reduced to  manual.

The weak ports caused delays and increased costs- the bane of the life of an entrepreneur.

Profit is further eroded by international investors who fear South Africa’s inefficient ports.

Gale, ever the optimist, moved from  problems to  solutions He is based in Cape Town and has insight into the port.

“The mind set in Cape Town is different, there is still a lot of positivity”

For those not positive yet, there is a reason to be with the appointment of a new manager for the port of Cape Town.

“He is competent and most importantly transparent.”

Gale shares a simple example of this air of change at a recent conference with 120 people, most of them exporters.

“Everyone was concerned and worried about the ports, but we all came out feeling this is different, this is incredible.”

The new management is eager to communicate constantly with importers and exporters to understand the day-to-day issues and work together to find solutions.

Gale speaks of weekly Zoom meetings where the most pressing issues are discussed, solutions identified and implemented.

Hopefully this change is a microcosm for South Africa, for greater public private partnership to create an attractive and resourceful country.

“Now there is more potential for private-public partnership, and they seem to be more open to it. It is not yet as it should be I believe, it’s not in the place I would like it to be, there is still move room to grow.”

Gale is excited for this potential to become reality, as an entrepreneur himself he trusts in South Africa for his success. More encouraging, depending on your point of view, is his opinion on where success can be found in South Africa despite all its problems .

“There is incredible potential, potential for the entrepreneur, if you have an entrepreneurial spirt the future is yours is in South Africa.”

Sage words indeed.