by Alan Mukoki


The importance of transport in South Africa

Allan Mukoki.jpg

There was a slogan some years ago which said something along the lines “without trucks, South Africa stops”. Actually the slogan would have greater traction if it said, "without transport”, South Africa stops”. South Africa’s transport infrastructure serves as the blood vessels of the economic network with the various vehicles using the network serving as the corpuscles that deliver the oxygen to the system, namely, the goods that we consume and export.

In the rapidly adjusting world of the internet and virtual transactions, we still need the hard infrastructure on the ground to deliver the product to our doorstep or the customer’s doorstep wherever it may be. The efficiency of this network makes or breaks product sales, be this the courier company that delivers the box of goodies to our door, or the road or rail network, the harbours and ports, the airport hubs that form the intricate part of this essential economic ingredient, and indeed, the ubiquitous trains and trucks that deliver the millions of tons of items daily. Add to this the taxis and buses, the commuter rail network and the heavy reliance of every South African on this infrastructure, and we begin to realise the enormous economic value of transport.

Not only does this affect our daily lives, but the sector is one of the largest employers in our country. Think of the supplier feeder industry, the motor vehicle manufacturers, their component suppliers, the fuel industry and its network of suppliers and we realise the massive contribution this makes to the South African economy. The export programme, the hundreds of thousands of jobs just in this part of the industry, not to mention the construction and infrastructure sectors and the transport runners themselves. It is estimated that about 20% of our economic output relates in one or other way to the transport sector and its infrastructure.

What also needs to be said is that our transport network compares favourably to other countries at the same level of economic development. Indeed, we rate relatively well when compared to our partners in BRICS. This is one sector that can be classified as world class. Our vehicles traverse the African continent, be these ships, trains or road vehicles. And our aircraft ply the skies daily. There are new age words to describe this phenomenon. The “logistics chain” is one of the more popular recent descriptions. It suggests that transport is the link to all economic activities, and describes the dependencies on transport.

So, where does this take us? Essentially transport is the key driver or economic growth. Why? Because if this infrastructure network fails, it has serious repercussions for the economy. Indeed, it impacts the region as a whole. Investment in infrastructure and maintenance is therefore an essential ingredient in the economic prosperity of South Africa going forward. It should never amount to a “grudge purchase”.

Our export programmes rely on it. Our consumers depend on our transport sector delivering produce to market. Our producers and factories rely on raw material inputs and finished product deliveries to market. All this pre-supposes transport network efficiencies and a transport system that works. The challenge is always going to be, can we keep pace with the rapidly growing populations of our cities and the pressures this places on this strategic resource? Are we forward thinking enough to make the transition without bottlenecks being experienced? The answer will always lie in the space of compromise to achieve the desired developmental objectives.

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Issue 93


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