In an interview with I-Net Bridge during the middle of February 2013, President Ian Khama of Botswana said labour militancy in South Africa and port congestion at Durban Harbour is putting bilateral trade, between Botswana and South Africa, in jeopardy.
A three-week wage strike by transport workers in September and October 2012 greatly slowed down the movement of goods from Durban harbour – a lifeline for goods into Botswana.
During the interview he posed the question, “do the unions‚ for example‚ know that apartheid has ended? The tactics they used then were justified and we supported them. But they seem to have carried them over into a democratic South Africa.”
Although non-strike congestion has eased in recent years, Durban harbour is expected to run out of capacity by 2016 ahead of the construction of a second‚ R75 billion dig-out port which is expected to be completed by 2019.
Khama said that his government was increasingly looking at ports in Namibia and Mozambique as potential hubs for two-way traffic with Botswana; not just as exit points for its future coal exports. He said Botswana had historically imported almost everything through Durban. But he sounded a warning‚ saying that the Namibian and Mozambican ports to be used for Botswana’s coal exports could be used for its imports too‚ as a result of congestion at the Durban port.
There is a growing regional feeling that South Africa’s ports and rail infrastructure is beginning to become unreliable. Evidence of this is found in the fact that several of South Africa’s immediate neighbours are beginning to build new ports and rail infrastructure which will bypass South Africa entirely.
For instance, Namibia is building both a new port, some 25 km’s north of Swakopmund which will be designed to handle bulk cargo, such as coal. The port will form part of the proposed Vision Industrial Park, a 700-hectare (ha) development, whose construction is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2016. On top of this in 2010, Namibia and Botswana began working on the Trans Kalahari Rail Project, an approximately 1 500 kilometre (km) coal rail line from Mmamabula, in Botswana to Walvis Bay in Namibia.
The government of Zambia has signed an agreement with a consortium of companies to conduct a feasibility study on a rail line that will connect the country to Namibia. The rail line will run from western and north-western Zambia and join Namibia Railway at the border town of Katima Mulilo, in yet another rail line intended to circumvent South Africa.
Furthermore, the governments of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to build a new US$7 billion deep water port and railway line, linking the three countries. The new port will be located in Mozambique’s Techobanine region in the Matutu’ne district of Mozambique’s Maputo province while the new rail line known as the Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana Goods Line, will be a 1 100km long line linking the southern region of Mozambique to Botswana, passing through Zimbabwe.