It’s time for Nelson Mandela Bay to take its rightful place in SA

The Donkin Reserve in Nelson Mandela Bay
The Donkin Reserve in Nelson Mandela Bay
Image: Karen van Rooyen

For decades our Nelson Mandela Bay metro has been marginalised and sidelined, with inadequate priority being placed on its development, thus resulting in its potential remaining largely untapped.

During the 1980s when there was mass disinvestment out of our local automotive sector, a common phrase bandied about was “the last one leaving should switch off the lights”.

 Over the years we have gone on to endure our Bay being allocated backwater status and called unkind names, such as the “armpit of SA” and “ghost on the coast”.

Along with this, we have become better known as an exporter of high-level skills and leaders to the rest of the country.

Nelson Mandela Bay which has the honour of being named after SA’s iconic father of the nation, is the largest metro in the Eastern Cape.

Even with its GDP contribution of around 38%, it unfortunately does not attract its due and fair share of attention and investment.

 Along with this, the Bay’s logistics sector has not been prioritised at a national level to the extent that it should have, and as such has placed significant cost burdens on our manufacturers and has constrained the growth of exports.

Also delayed for decades is the much-needed relocation of the manganese ore berth and tank farm to unlock tourism and the potential of our beachfront, thereby saddling the city with vacant, neglected buildings that contribute to the negative perception of crime and grime.

Along with the collapse of the north to south rail corridor, the movement of trucks and storage of manganese in the Markman industrial area has caused major environmental and infrastructure damage as well as negative business sentiment.

Further compounding the situation is the current logistics crisis which is having a disastrous impact on the import and export of goods.

 It took intensive lobbying by various stakeholders, including this business chamber, to secure the development of the Coega IDZ and get the Port of Ngqura built — an initiative not only to add much-needed container capacity to the country’s logistics network and a deepwater port to serve the next generation of container vessels, but also specifically to locate the special economic zones (SEZ) and the new port here as a catalyst for much-needed economic growth in the region.

However, promises of Ngqura becoming a global transshipment hub serving east-west and north-south sea trade, and intra-African freight logistics, have largely not materialised to the extent that they should have.

Upgrading the infrastructure and efficiency of the north-south rail corridor was always going to be critical to unlocking the potential of the country’s deepest port and its mega-container terminal, as well as being key to the relocation of the manganese ore dumps to the SEZ terminal.

Road, rail, air and sea transport are, or should be, interconnected and complementary, but this city has little direct international and intercontinental air freight capability, due to under-investment in airport infrastructure and route development.

We have ambitious big-ticket investments on the cards — Hive Hydrogen and Stellantis automotive, to name but two — however, they need to be supported by the ability to move high-value goods, components and skilled people in and out of the region.

The lack of connectivity and lack of infrastructure investment are surely among the factors influencing the steady decline in freight traffic through the Bay and the long-term decline in both public and private sector investment in the Eastern Cape and NMB relative to other major centres.

Our metro now represents only 5% of private and public investment, attracted into the country’s eight metros — not because we are not attractive for investors, but because development of this region, and support for an enabling environment for business, has been neglected.

Despite all that is outlined above, this is not about complaining, but rather it is about taking action together to ensure that our potential is recognised and our voice becomes stronger.

We have two ports, we are the hub of automotive manufacturing and exports for the country, we have high-level technical skills and advanced, innovative hi-tech businesses.

We also have capacity in research and development, education and training, and significant lifestyle advantages.

Nelson Mandela Bay urgently needs to become part of the national conversation on energy, freight, logistics, infrastructure and investment — and the only way we are going to get there is if we make our voice heard. 

The business chamber started on this path more than two years ago, pursuing an activist, action-oriented and solution-driven approach to the problems facing this metro.

The progress we have made is now attracting attention from national business and civil society bodies also focused on fixing SA, and we may well be a test case with some “out of the box” interventions that could potentially be replicated in other cities.

Our growing move towards establishing partnerships with key organisations at a national level is helping to connect the Bay into national conversations around interventions to reverse the decline in our economy, to retain investments and save jobs.

This can only be to the benefit of raising our influence on the national stage and ensuring that Nelson Mandela Bay gets the required attention and investment that it richly deserves.

  • Denise van Huyssteen is the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.



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