The crippling strike that recently hit Transnet’s Ngqura Container Terminal in Port Elizabeth had an “unbearable” effect on the Eastern Cape economy, which lost about R1 billion in earnings, according to Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane.
The go-slow, which went on for two weeks before an interdict stopped the strike, saw workers embark on a protest over unpaid bonuses, among other things.
At least 13 workers have been suspended as a result.
The premier said the strike has had a devastating effect on the vehicle manufacturing, citrus, meat, electronics and textiles sectors.
“These are issues we don’t want to see happen, particularly in an ailing economy like ours,” said Mabuyane. “We have got to do everything to avoid these issues because the more you have your economy negatively affected by a billion [R1 billion] it’s a huge thing when you are in an economic recovery path … these conditions are unbearable, especially for us as the Eastern Cape.
“It’s a very regrettable situation and it is outside our control. We wrote letters to all those affected immediately after we had been alerted [to the strike], including to the relevant ministers.
“Two days ago I was briefed by the acting Transnet CEO [Mohammed Mahomedy, who said] that the matter has been partly resolved and that they are back now on full operation,” said Mabuyane.
He said the strike had a negative knock-on effect on several sectors of the economy, with exports among the hardest hit.
“It is something we could have avoided if it was entirely under our control as a province. But it is something that happened nationally, it did not only affect Ngqura.
“It was affecting a number of ports. But we are happy that there is some kind of resolution on the matter,” Mabuyane said.
Mlungisi Mvoko, Eastern Cape’s MEC for finance, economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, said he was very concerned about what happened at the Ngqura Container Terminal.
“It [the strike] is a worrying factor. I have been in contact with the port to get constant feedback because it was beginning to affect us negatively. It affected Volkswagen because there was a vessel that could not be offloaded. It was affecting the shifts.
“There was also a problem with the Sunday’s River Valley citrus farmers who were affected negatively. When they had taken their trucks with fruit there and were forced to just park there,” said Mvoko. The MEC said though they understood that this was a matter between an employer and employees, in future there should be a way of dealing with the issues so that the province’s economy is not affected so negatively.
“I cannot quantify at the moment how much was lost to the province’s economy. I am actually planning to go down and meet the farmers in Sunday’s River Valley. But when I spoke to the port on Monday I was given assurance that things were getting back to normal,” Mvoko said.
Transnet said this week that it would take close to two weeks to clear the backlog at the Ngqura Container Terminal.
“To date, 13 employees have been suspended for misconduct that took place during the strike. Following a court interdict, productivity is returning to normal,” the state-owned company said.
The United National Transport Union (Untu) hit back at Transnet, saying that the problems at the Ngqura terminal were not only as a result of the strike but also inefficient management.
Untu, which represents the majority of transport workers, said the suspension of the employees had affected the operations.