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South Africa

Ports and Shipping

South Africa has no commercially navigable rivers, but ocean shipping has long been a feature of its transportation network, capitalizing on the country's two-ocean frontage. The earliest nineteenth-century shipping firms began as coastal carriers for local commerce, traveling between southern African ports. After World War II, private investors initiated an international shipping service, and in 1946 the state corporation, South African Marine Corporation (Safmarine), assumed control over the private company. Safmarine operates container ships, general cargo vessels, and bulk carriers for mineral exports, and, since the 1980s, has offered expanded service to Europe, North America, South America, and Asia (South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan). In 1992 it purchased the newest of its five container ships, Oranje , from Croatia at a cost of R100 million.

South Africa has six major commercial ports: Durban, Richards Bay, Cape Town, Saldanha Bay, Port Elizabeth, and East London. Portnet manages their facilities, including cargo-handling equipment, wharves, and container terminals, and provides services such as tugs, berthing, and cargo handling. Portnet also sets the standards for such services offered by private businesses. (In addition, Portnet manages forty-six lighthouses--eighteen operated by keepers and twenty-eight that are automatic.) Relying on containerization and automation to speed up service, Portnet handled more than 127 million tons of cargo on more than 12,900 seagoing vessels in 1994.

Each major port has traditionally played an important, specialized role in South Africa's export sector. For example, Durban handles general cargo, especially cereal exports; Cape Town specializes in exports of deciduous fruit, wine, and vegetables; and Saldanha Bay was built specifically to export mineral ores from the Northern Cape.

Durban's port encompasses 893 hectares of bay area. The port entrance channel is 12.7 meters deep at low tide. Durban has five deep-sea and two coastal container berths, and provides 15,195 meters of quayage for commercial ships. Durban also has repair facilities, including a floating dry dock. Through the 1980s, Durban was South Africa's busiest general cargo port, handling as much as 25 percent of the country's imports and exports in some years, but it was being surpassed by Richards Bay in the 1990s.

Richards Bay, a deep-water port 193 kilometers northeast of Durban, was commissioned in 1976 primarily to export coal from the eastern Transvaal, but by the early 1990s it was handling almost one-half of all cargo passing through South African ports. Port facilities can accommodate bulk carriers of up to 250,000 tons, with five berths for general and bulk cargo, and a coal berth.

Cape Town has one of the largest dry docks in the southern hemisphere, including five berths for container vessels and general cargo carriers, a pier for coastal traffic, and extensive ship repair facilities. The port at Cape Town has a water area of 112.7 hectares.

Port Elizabeth's enclosed water area of about 115 hectares has more than 3,400 meters of quayage for commercial shipping and a container terminal that has two berths. Vessels with a draught of up to twelve meters can use the harbor, and offshore anchorage is available for vessels of any draught. Facilities at Port Elizabeth include a mechanical ore-handling plant, which can process up to 1,500 tons per hour, and a precooling storage area with a capacity of 7,500 cubic meters.

Saldanha Bay, 110 kilometers northwest of Cape Town, is the largest port on the west coast of Africa and one of the best natural ports in the world. The facilities at Saldanha Bay provide anchorage in the lee of a breakwater where the minimum water depth is 14.6 meters. With a port area of about 5,000 hectares, Saldanha Bay is larger than the combined areas of the ports of Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and East London. The ore-loading jetty can handle carriers of 350,000 tons.

South Africa's only river port, East London, is situated at the estuary of the Buffalo River in Eastern Cape province. Although East London is the smallest of the six major ports, it has a 75,000-ton capacity grain elevator--the largest in South Africa. East London handles agricultural exports and is the main outlet for copper exports from other African countries, such as Zambia and Zaire.

Two other coastal cities--Simonstown, south of Cape Town, and Mossel Bay, between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth--have substantial port facilities. Mossel Bay is a commercial fishing harbor between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and Simonstown is a naval base and training center (see Navy, ch. 5).

Road System and Transport

South Africa has an extensive national, provincial, and municipal road system covering the entire country (see fig. 18). As of 1996, the national routes include nearly 2,500 kilometers of limited-access freeways and 3,600 kilometers of highways with unlimited access. Roughly 60,000 kilometers of all-weather, paved roads and more than 100,000 kilometers of unpaved roads are maintained by the national and provincial governments.

More than 6 million vehicles are in operation nationwide, including about 3.5 million passenger vehicles, in 1996. Buses and private van services are also used by many workers who commute from townships and rural areas to urban workplaces. Several private bus companies run commuter lines, and municipal bus services operate within several cities.

South Africa has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world--more than 10,000 people, almost one-half of them pedestrians and bicyclists, were killed in more than 400,000 road accidents in 1992. The number of deaths was reduced slightly, to about 9,400, in 1993. The government has taken numerous measures to reduce accidents--for example, by implementing seat-belt laws and lowering speed limits. Nevertheless, in the mid-1990s, the government estimates that barely half of all automobile passengers wear seat belts, and traffic accidents continue to take a heavy toll.

Data as of May 1996

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