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Resetting South Africa’s maritime agenda with the 7th Administration

Resetting South Africa’s maritime agenda with the 7th Administration

A call for a maritime ministry

OPINION PIECE: The Maritime Business Chamber (MBC) is reigniting the call for a Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Shipping as South Africa enters its 7th Administration.

With a robust and diverse maritime history, South Africa has failed to recognise its maritime strength and strategic geographical position. Despite investing in port infrastructure, expanding maritime trade and promoting several ocean sectors, the country is yet to fully operationalise efforts to promote its maritime Interest.

The MBC has has no doubt that the South Africa's maritime industry encompasses diverse opportunities across maritime transport, fishing as well as offshore oil and gas exploration, but needs an intervention to realise its full potential. As such, we are calling for the establishment of a Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Shipping within the 7th Administration.

We have been making this clarion call since 2021 and it was echoed by the Black Business Council in November 2023. We again raised this proposal to President Ramaphosa during his party’s election campaign in Gqeberha.

His response was welcomed when he told us: “There’s a proposal now, that we should have a Maritime Affairs and Shipping Ministry. Ndiyavuya ukuva leyo proposal (I’m happy to hear such a proposal), because we are in the process of looking at it in the 7th Administration. We are going to look at how do we reshape our government, because some government functions are duplicated.”

“There’s a proposal now, that we should have a Maritime Affairs and Shipping Ministry. Ndiyavuya ukuva leyo proposal (I’m happy to hear such a proposal), because we are in the process of looking at it in the 7th administration.”

He added that there is a need to consolidate and look closely at the role that each of ministry plays.

South Africa cannot afford to journey another 30 years and not take full advantage of its maritime potential. Many other African countries are already taking better advantage of the value of their maritime or ocean economies.

Championing the ocean economy

On the 26th February 1998, the National Assembly passed the South African Maritime Safety Authority Bill (known as the SAMSA Bill). The then Minister of Transport, Mac Maharaj said; “The main objective of this Bill before us is to promote South Africa’s interests and to exercise control over shipping that ensures safe and clean seas.”

During this same seating in the National Assembly, the then National Party voiced its support of the Bill highlighting that the Authority would replace the Chief Directorate Shipping.    

Given the above one would have thought this was going to be the beginning of era where South Africa would take a posture that would show appreciation of its maritime status but, despite some notable interventions, policies and legislation, we have not seen the desired traction.

Given the above one would have thought this was going to be the beginning of era where South Africa would take a posture that would show appreciation of its maritime status but, despite some notable interventions, policies and legislation, we have not seen the desired traction.

New Bills, Policies and Legislation have been signed into law, but are all yet to be fully tested. And we have seen 2014 Operation Phakisa becoming just a hype ‘theme’ with no concrete updates.  It has failed to achieve its desired outcomes with no real political champion driving the development of the programme. In addition, there is not even clear direction within the Oceans Economy Master Plan that was intended to roll-out and drive the oceans economy.

The Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy (CMPT) was also developed to address various aspects of South Africa’s maritime sector in alignment with the country’s broader national development goals including economic growth, job creation, poverty alleviation, and social inclusion. But even this has been slow in leveraging the maritime potential.

The CMPT could be a tool to advocate for South Africa’s position on the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Council to secure a seat for two consecutive terms while noting the geopolitics affecting the country’s position on several global issues.

Port performance

We believe that even the recent challenges within our port system would be better addressed with a dedicated ministry. Currently the lack of cooperation between the Department of Transport, Department of Public Enterprises and the Transnet National Ports Authority has seen the need to establish a presidential National Logistics Crisis Committee (NLCC) despite the existence of the Ports Consultative Committees (PCC) and National Ports Consultative Committee (NPCC).

A dedicated ministry could easily attend to the amended Port Act to strengthen the role and functions of the PCC and the NPCC.

The National Ports Act 12 of 2005 is supposed to serve as a comprehensive legislative framework for the effective and sustainable management of ports by balancing the needs of port users, local communities, and the environment while supporting the country's maritime trade and economic development. However, we have yet to see the full implementation of the promotion of efficiency, competitiveness, and sustainability in port operations as our ports continue to fall short in spending CAPEX.

We have, since 2022, been calling for the amendment of the National Ports Acts as we believe the act is silent on a number variables that drive port activities including the inclusion of Small Micro Medium Enterprises (SMME’s).

Fishing sector

The fishing industry is a significant contributor to the country's economy and provides employment, food security as well as export revenue. We contend that South Africa has continued to protect and promote the interests of the private commercial sector as the FRAP 2021 failed to take into consideration the inclusion of the new entrants; and continues to fail in its commitment to support the small scale fishers (SSF).

A focus on small scale fishers is needed to address historical inequalities and ensure equitable access to fishing rights and opportunities.

However, SSF rights remain paper quotas with no adequate resource to maximise the potential of their quotas. The decision to continue to allocate long term fishing rights to the same big and established companies for a period of up to 20 years was clearly aimed at eliminating the opportunities for new entrants to benefit from the lucrative commercial fishing industry. 

This unrealised fishing industry potential includes aquaculture or fish farming that remains barely transformed and is controlled by gate keepers. The fishing industry can help address the issues of food security in the country if there is a designated food security ministry and we propose as such.

Offshore oil and gas opportunities

The MBC contributed to the amended Upstream Petroleum Resources Development Bill that was tabled by the 6th Administration. We commend the efforts to facilitate the participation of historically disadvantaged individuals in South Africa through the Bill as well as the alignment with global decarbonisation initiatives.

During oral submissions in February this year, we emphasised the importance of proactive monitoring to prevent exploitation and ensure equitable benefit-sharing.

The country has a considerable offshore oil and gas potential, and these resources have the potential to significantly boost the country's economy. The sector could create employment opportunities, attract investment, and contribute to government revenue through taxes, royalties, and other fiscal mechanisms.

In addition, the development of offshore hydrocarbon resources could help to enhance energy security and reduce dependence on imported fuels. 

Maximising the ocean economy

We highlight the above without turning a blind eye to the other successful interventions made by the country such as the establishment of South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) and the seafarer development programmes that aim to see local seafarer participation on foreign vessels visiting our ports.

The MBC also acknowledges the passing of the Marchant Shipping Bill (Marchant Shipping Bill B12-2023), the Marine Pollution Amendment Bill (B10 - 2022) and all previous Bill’s in relation to Maritime in general such as the Marine Spatial Planning Bill.

South Africa possesses a policy framework that allows it to be well-positioned as a prominent voice within the international maritime community as well as to command a position of ocean leadership on the African continent.

South Africa possesses a policy framework that allows it to be well-positioned as a prominent voice within the international maritime community as well as to command a position of ocean leadership on the African continent.

But the 7th Administration has a significant task at hand to reset the South Africa’s maritime agenda to align it more closely to the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (2050 Aim Strategy). It also needs to commit to ensuring that the previously disadvantaged and marginalised are part of the value-chain.

For this to be realised, it will require collaboration and corporation and the Chamber is once again raising its hand to ask for a dedicated maritime ministry.  This new ministry will require sustainable management practices, responsible governance, and strategic investments to balance economic development with environmental protection and social equity.

 

The original opinion piece has been edited for clarity and length.
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