Loss of trust, reputational damage, decreasing investor confidence, companies choosing to avoid using South Africa’s ports resulting in the loss of jobs and slow economic growth. These are just some of the consequences of massive disruptions to South Africa’s supply chains over recent weeks. The cyber-attack on Transnet, which brought our ports to a halt and resulted in a virtual standstill for 12 days, is the latest in a series of severe supply chain shocks. Throughout this time, the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) has played a key and active role in tackling the challenges that have unfolded and collaborating with stakeholders to restore some normality to the supply chain in several ways:

  1. The Association was instrumental in the establishment of the Supply Chain Security Working Group. Co-chaired by SAAFF and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) and comprising a wide range of stakeholders from both the private and public sectors, the purpose of the working group is to identify solutions to the challenges that supply chains currently face, including the massive gridlock at ports around the country. The working group meets daily to track and monitor progress.
  2. Driving the development of a master plan to ensure that contingency plans are put in place where there are none.  This will be developed into a strategic, longer-term logistics master plan.
  3. SAAFF was instrumental in getting a manual process underway at the ports to ensure the resumption of the flow of goods.   A detailed standard operating procedure is in the process of being developed. This will provide clear protocols that will be clearly communicated to all the  role players in the extended supply chain.  This work will be signed off by Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) – the apex body for business interests in South Africa- as well as Transnet Port Terminals, Transnet National Ports Authority and SARS.
  4. Initiating discussions with various stakeholders to ensure that linkages are in place to bring about quick and effective communication and to build capacity for effective decision-making.
  5. Ongoing lobbying with influencers and Government leaders to bring about much-needed action with a clear understanding of the impact of international and regional supply chains on our fragile economy.
  6. Keeping its members up to date with progress made, thereby enabling them to plan ahead accordingly even while cargo is moving or at rest in the different holding areas like container terminals or licensed depots.
  7. Conducting interviews with media – both locally and globally – to keep the industry and its customers apprised of the latest news.
  8. Offering target-driven, innovative solutions to the supply chain blockages.
  9. The Association’s lobbying efforts with other industry associations resulted in more police and SANDF presence at critical hot spots on key corridors.

 Lessons learned

The disruptions have provided valuable lessons for everyone, which need to be incorporated into actions going forward.

  1. All businesses, government departments and state-owned entities need to have contingency plans in place.  The purpose of any contingency plan is to allow an organisation to return to its daily operations as quickly as possible after an unforeseen event. This restores some much-needed predictability into the supply chain.
  2. Rapid responses are needed from all stakeholders when disruptions occur.
  3. Collaboration between Government and the private sector is vital.  The private sector is willing and able to work with Government. We have a mature approach to this collaborative journey to build a better South Africa and support our key role in the Southern East Africa Region.
  4. Transparency of the supply chain is key.
  5. Strong leadership with effective and timeous communication is essential to drive solutions to the disruptions.

We need to rebuild trust with importers and exporters (the cargo owners) to ensure that logistics networks can support their brand promises to their end customers, the public at large.  Whilst some stability has now been restored at Transnet, SAAFF calls on all stakeholders – from the private and public sectors, to work as a collective structure to ensure that these disruptions do not happen again.  The transport nodes need to be developed and reinforced in the correct balance,  Waterside, terminals, road and rail need to function together, with a strong supportive and escalation structure in the centre that will ensure sustainability and predictability in order to support regional and International trade effectively.

SAAFF supports the freight forwarders and the supply chain industry and are committed to playing our role in economic growth and have been doing this for over 100 years.

In its cohesive efforts to address the challenges and restore an efficient, effective and reliable supply chain flow of container traffic, SAAFF will continue to work cohesively and decisively until a sense of normality is achieved.

By Dr Juanita Maree – Chairperson: SAAFF