This needs to be a year of action

2024 is an election year
2024 is an election year

2023 was a year of crises and it is quite likely that this year will be filled with many more.

Add an election year on top of all the issues being pulled through from last year — the energy crisis, logistics crisis, lack of adequate municipal service delivery, safety and security issues such as vandalism, alarming increases in truck hijackings, criminal attacks on tourists and residents in spaces that should be safe, and it can all seem overwhelming and impossible to resolve.

With electioneering in full swing, we are likely to see more sideshows and photo opportunities than actual progress, but as organised business we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal in driving for an improved enabling environment.

The driving force for a more conducive environment for doing business is to escalate efforts to save investments and jobs, the only way for our metro and our country to survive.

Those who have increasingly joined the movement of our chamber’s activist and collaborative approach to solving problems over the past two years, have done so because they know that if we as business do not act, our businesses will not succeed.

In fact, national stakeholders have told us that they like our approach of not just pointing out what is not working, but also rolling up our sleeves to come up with and implement solutions. 

The reality is that Nelson Mandela Bay’s economy is anchored by a strong manufacturing sector, which has a downstream impact on investment and employment through all the layers of our economy from direct and indirect suppliers to the spaza shop on the corner.

For manufacturing and its value chain to be viable and succeed, there needs to be sufficient power, a working rail system and efficient ports to get products to market, and the basic operating enablers such as reliable water, electricity and roads infrastructure need to be in place.

In the midst of the poly-crisis we face, recognising that some of it is brought about by global circumstances beyond our control, we have prioritised the “big ticket items” which we can influence, and which are the most vital for the enabling environment and reversing the socioeconomic decline.

Lack of reliable electricity supply, due to both load-shedding and under-maintained and vandalised infrastructure, has long been the headline crisis and reached unprecedented levels in 2023.

By early December last year, Eskom had cut off electricity for more than 6,800 hours (we had only 1,326 hours of zero load-shedding) — almost double the hours cut in 2022.

For a total of 147 days, load-shedding ran between stages 4 to 6.

However, the electricity crisis (where there is at least some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel now) has been overtaken by an even more serious crisis in our logistics and transport networks.

The logistics issues have been coming on over a number of years — lack of skills, lack of equipment and infrastructure maintenance, lack of new acquisitions of equipment and expansion of the logistics network and facilities.

The situation towards the end of last year of more than 70,000 containers delayed on vessels awaiting entry to the Port of Durban was possibly the most dramatic illustration of a crisis which runs even deeper.

Congestion at the Cape Town and Durban ports has resulted not only in delayed vessels but in many shipping lines skipping SA ports altogether.

Nelson Mandela Bay-based automotive and other manufacturing industries, as well as the agriculture sector, are having to truck goods to other ports, including Namibia and Mozambique.

Rail freight has become grossly underutilised, with the dramatic decrease in rail freight leading to a massive increase in road transport with resulting congestion, pressure on the road network causing damage, and increased costs of doing business.

Political instability in our local council since 2016 has impacted municipal service delivery — inefficiencies in procurement, substantial underspending, lack of performance management and consequences, lack of decision-making; these are the symptoms caused by the revolving door of politicians who come and go.

Key investments coming into the Bay, particularly the R109bn  Hive Hydrogen megaproject as well as the R3bn  Stellantis automotive manufacturing plant, are moving with speed to ground-breaking stage.

It is crucial that investors such as these, with their job creation prospects — and in the case of Hive’s green hydrogen and green ammonia, the potential to reshape the local industrial landscape — are supported by an enabling environment of reliable electricity and water supply, logistics connectivity, and safety and security for people and products.

We have shown over the past two years that positive gains can be made by working together and driving solutions.

By focusing on the key priorities of logistics, electricity and municipal service delivery (including safety and security) in the coming year, partnering with national business organisations and locally our members, civil society and government, we aim to make a meaningful difference in the coming year.

Amid the election sideshows, the chamber remains apolitical and willing to work with anyone who shares our values and vision, irrespective of which party is in power.

The focus needs to firmly shift from talking to taking action.

Having meetings or making pronouncements should not be confused with the implementation of actual, tangible solutions.

In 2024, we will continue to keep our foot on the pedal and pursue the stability and conducive environment that enables business to operate and sustain jobs.

While we certainly do not have all the answers, we have shown that by working together we are more likely to find solutions and very importantly take action which serves the best interest of our local economy in the Bay.

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



Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.