The history of the city of Port Elizabeth, as its name suggests, is inextricably entwined with its harbour: the 1820 British settlers were in need of a local trade port, and by 1877 Port Elizabeth was South Africa’s busiest and premier port. The harbour is sited on the western perimeter of Algoa Bay, and faces increasing competition from the Port of Ngqura (pronounced “Coega”) situated at the mouth of the Coega River, also in the Nelson Mandela Bay area. Ngqura forms part of an industrial development zone (IDZ) which hopes to generate wealth in the underdeveloped area.
The new port handles container cargo and will, in the future, export manganese that is currently exported from Port Elizabeth. Mainstays of the cargoes at Port Elizabeth include agriculture and farming produce, wool crops, and deciduous and citrus fruits. The port also serves the needs of the local industrial base and is often used as a port of call (a port used as an intermediary stop) when the ports of Durban or Cape Town are congested. It is highly likely that the Toyota for sale in your favoured classifieds has passed through either the Port Elizabeth or Durban harbour.
The other port in the Eastern Cape is the Port of East London, located at the mouth of the Buffalo River. The port is South Africa’s last remaining river port, and is used for general cargo. Although not well equipped when compared to South Africa’s larger ports, East London boasts the largest grain elevator in the country, which has been used to store food aid from the United Nations destined for areas in need. The port also stands to increase its automotive imports when a parking garage of 4 stories is doubled in size, which will make the port capable of having a throughput of 180 000 vehicles a year.
The smallest of the commercial ports in South Africa is also one of its first: the Mossel Bay harbour was used as a port of call for ships travelling to and from the east. A far cry from a world of web hosting and instant messaging, a crease in the famed “post office tree” served as a safe place where sailors could leave messages which were transported back to Europe by ships sailing from the East Indies. The Port of Mossel Bay currently serves the local fishing industry and exports oil as part of the Mossgas project.
In comparison, the Port of Richard’s Bay, situated on South Africa’s east coast, is large enough to one day be one of the largest ports in the world. Currently, however, and despite its modernity, the port only serves the country’s bulk exports in the form of coal (from coal mine areas like Witbank), timber and granite. Like most South African ports, Richard’s Bay is well supported by a rail network extending from Gauteng and Mpumalanga.
The last of South Africa’s commercial ports is the Port of Saldanha Bay. Discovered as early as 1601, the Bay has only recently been developed into a port owing to the necessity of finding an adequate harbour to handle iron ore exports. Iron ore is transported from mines near Sishen in the Northern Cape to Saldanha Bay via the 800km railway line known as Orex. The port also has a steel mill nearby in order to convert iron ore into steel exports.