Transnet: Ports still the best ‘Gateway into Africa’

29 October 2015

He was positive about the organisation’s mid-financial year performance, Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) chief executive Karl Socikwa said, outlining in detail ways in which TPT could improve and grow its business in the context of changing economic, political and social climates, both at home and abroad.

The group’s mid-year results are to be released today. Socikwa was speaking at an informative stakeholders engagement breakfast in Rosebank, Johannesburg yesterday.

Socikwa said he believed the work done by Transnet Port Terminals and its sister group advanced South African competitiveness in not only global markets, but more vitally, on the African continent. An efficient and responsive economic infrastructure network was being built with African trade partner countries, which were set to flourish despite uncertainty in the global economic environment, particularly in Asia.

Referring briefly to events in South Africa over the last few weeks, Socikwa summed up the marvel of the economic, political and social space in South Africa in a single word: “volatility”. These events included protests against corruption and university fees increases, as well as the Economic Freedom Fighters’ march on financial institutions on Tuesday.

He added “that while there is never a dull moment in South Africa today, and it is not for the faint-hearted, South Africans should not view these pessimistically, rather looking at the changes as an opportunity to do the right things”.

From a business perspective and organisational performance, Socikwa said that while some state-owned enterprises got “bashed, and some more deservedly than others”, they should never lose sight of the important role they played in aspiring growth and building the country.

“Financial health is important,” he said, “and TPT is looking to drive its financial sustainability around not being too reliant on the state for assistance.”

Transnet’s Market Demand Strategy is dedicated to aggressive investment in infrastructure and people. The focus is on upgrading port facilities with the most up- to-date technology and using the human element of operations more constructively.

“There are some exciting ideas and technologies in the industry,” Socikwa said, “not only for improving infrastructure and communications, but also (for) optimising how we as TPT can integrate more effectively with our sister divisions at Transnet.”

In an ever-changing global economy, particularly in the post-2008 downturn cycle, there had been a lot of sacrifice in investments, said the chief executive. The best way to counter the changes and uncertainty was to find new ideas, new ways of doing things in order to ensure vibrancy in the market.

One way to do this was to not only invest in hard assets, but in soft assets as well, namely the people of Transnet. “We have a lot of good people on the ground at this company, people who know, from experience, how things work and how they can be improved, finding practical solutions to practical problems.”

Africa was a market Transnet needed to penetrate as much as possible, he said, and South African ports, as far as moving trade and exchanging ideas was concerned, had an important role in connecting the continent. It was an effective “gateway” to these markets.

“We shouldn’t get despondent that the Chinese downturn affects our dependency; we should look for opportunities in regional Africa, working with other growing African economies,” he said.