Just when you thought they were falling into the sea, South Africa’s 12 small boat harbours have been rescued from obscurity by a significant state cash injection.

The Department of Public Works has fast tracked long-awaited plans to upgrade all existing harbours and build three new ones, one each in the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal.  That’s according to Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi who hosted a press conference in mid-October to outline his Department’s timeline for the harbour ‘Special Intervention’ project. A R400-million repair schedule has already commenced, involving dredging and the removal of 29 sunken vessels from seven of the harbours.  Repairs to slipways and shore cranes will begin during the course of November.

A ‘mini-lab’ has also been scheduled for November for all stakeholders to discuss upcoming contracts, which Nxesi says will hopefully contribute to local community upliftment.

Nxesi told media representatives the harbour upgrade project was long overdue and urgently required to address a lack of maintenance.   Ageing or defunct harbour infrastructure, as well as a lack of security, has impacted negatively on some well-known marinas, notably in Hout Bay and Gordon’s Bay.

Nxesi also stressed the need for government to make better use of its coastal property portfolio which comprises over 330 properties, many leased at well below market rates.

Nxesi, who was briefly transferred to the Sports Ministry during Jacob Zuma’s tenure, was reappointed to his post earlier this year. He helped initiate the harbour project as far back as 2012 together with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Public Works project manager Riyaadh Kara last month told the Sunday Times the harbour intervention involved almost a year of preparatory work, including bathymetric surveys to determine depths of the current harbours.

A Public Works document published last year identified four key problem areas the Special Intervention project will address:

  1. Poor management of the Republic’s Coastline, Ports of Entry and Small Harbours
  2. Lack of local skills within the marine infrastructure, marine research and development sector
  3. Lack of maintenance programmes in place for existing state owned infrastructure along the coastline 4. Historically, the development of fully functional fishing harbours was skewed towards the Western Cape.
  4. Lack of efficient and integrated Harbour and coastal property lease management:

Public Works officials believe the harbour upgrades are a vital component of government’s broader ‘Blue Economy’ flagship Operation Phakisa project that aims to stimulate investment and job creation in the oceans economy. “It is estimated that the oceans economy has the potential to contribute up to R177 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2033 (compared to R54 billion in 2010) and create approximately 1 million jobs (compared to 316 000 in 2010),” Public Works says in their project overview.

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