Breaking out the bubbly may be premature, but while we all could be forgiven for being more than a little circumspect about a “people’s port” and waterfront development for Port Elizabeth, at least Transnet is playing open cards now.
The trouble is that what was first mooted as a game-changer for the harbour precinct more than 20 years ago has repeatedly stalled – leading to understandable cynicism as to whether anything like the plans and artists’ impressions which have been intermittently dished out will ever materialise.
However, the parastatal now has some firm strategies and proposals in place which encompass a much greater vision than just a multi-attraction tourism drawcard, but also feed into what is already a service-driven port with the added value of fresh commercial initiatives.
These would entail the expansion of its cargo handling capability and capitalising on a booming ship repair industry while also developing a marine engineering hub and yacht-building factory – all of which would see economic benefits beyond the obvious boost to our rather frayed tourism image.
What has been a constant spanner in the works has been the fuel tank farm and ore dumps – now scheduled to be moved in 2019 and 2020 respectively – over which the municipality no doubt has concerns, given that these deadlines have been pushed back in the past, while it has struggled to get firm time-frames and specifics.
But the manganese terminals, the port manager assures us, are not an impediment to getting started.
The city has been waiting for this waterfront centrepiece for way too long. If we are to demonstrate we are a competitive destination, it can no longer be an elusive mirage.
Transnet wants to turn the first sod in just over two years from now. It must also prove that it can live up to its promise of turning its grand scheme into a reality.