/ 27 May 2024

Durban port’s R1,1 bn liquid bulk terminal launches

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South African entrepreneur and chairman of Mnambithi Group, Vusi Mazibuko, has described the signing of a terminal operating agreement with Transnet for the new R1.1 billion liquid bulk terminal at the Port of Durban as a dream come true and landmark in his business journey.

Speaking at the signing ceremony and sod-turning event to launch the construction phase of the project at the port on Thursday Mazibuko, 68, said it had taken a decade of entrepreneurial tenacity and perseverance to get the project underway.

“Today’s signing ceremony is a culmination of a journey that began about 10 years ago when I walked into Transnet with a model of what I thought the terminal should look like,” Mazibuko said.

“That was the start of a very difficult journey. Our mission from the onset was to start with a strategy so that we could ship and store [liquid bulk cargo] and, if we ever wanted to make a success in the maritime industry, which was new to us, we had to cover the entire value chain,” he said.

The terminal, which will be built in one phase will have the capacity to store 100 000 cubic metres of liquid bulk cargo, including imported edible oils, caustic soda and phosphoric acid, for supply to the rest of Africa and as well as to the local market, including pulp and paper manufacturers and mining companies.

Transnet has leased the land at Maydon Wharf to the business on a 20-year concession which starts when the terminal begins operating. The facility’s storage units are already 80% leased to businesses that want to make use of its services.

Mazibuko recalled how he had walked into Transnet’s offices on an “unsolicited visit” to propose building the terminal.  

“It was very ambitious but we know this sector is full of possibilities and that there was a lot of growth we could expect. We were aware the barriers to entry were very high but we really thought we were ready for the challenge,” he said.

“But also, deep down, because of my age, I wanted to be a change agent in the transformation of this country, especially in the maritime sector,” he said.

He said the group had purchased a bulk chemical tanker, Bow Cecil, five years ago, which has transported more than 1 million metric tonnes of cargo. Sasol and Sappi are among the group’s blue-chip clients.

“When we got that milestone done, it gave us courage to work more to get the terminal set up. I should stress that, with the guidance of some of the stakeholders here today, we have reached another landmark stage of our journey,” he said.

But Mazibuko said it was important for state-owned companies such as Transnet to be sensitive to entrepreneurial visions.

“I hope there will be a number of entities like us that will be guided and supported. It has not been easy, there are also lessons … if you want to set up a business like this one as an entrepreneur you must be aware of the compliances, the bureaucracy and the rules of the game because we really want to barge in and get what we want,” Mazibuko said.

“But I would also ask TNPA [Transnet National Ports Authority] to be sensitive to businesses like us — entrepreneurs with our dreams and objectives,” he said.

During the many years of engaging with Transnet regarding his dream, Mazibuko had vigorous discussions with Transnet CEO Michelle Phillips, who was working as general manager in the commercial division when he first approached the entity.

“It is interesting that, when I started this journey, the first person I met at TNPA was Michelle, and today by some strange twist of fate, we have actually arrived at the same point together,” he said.

He and his team had persevered, inspired by Nelson Mandela’s words “a winner is a dreamer who never gives up” as a mantra to reach their end goal.

“One of my colleagues asked me, ‘What kept you going?” and I said: ‘Whenever I came out of a meeting with TNPA or TNPT [Transnet National Port Terminals], there was always hope of a line I could follow, the door was never closed forever,’” he said.

“Instead of getting rebuffed, we were encouraged to continue this journey. I want to encourage aspirant entrepreneurs like us that Transnet is full of opportunities. Don’t take any refusal — go on and look at the silver lining and, if you look at us at Mnambithi, where we are now, clearly this is the land of dreams and hopes,” Mazibuko said.

Phillips, speaking at the launch, said she and Mazibuko had “boxed” repeatedly regarding his plans for the terminal over the years not least because, as an advocate, she was a stickler for compliance. She said the project’s environment impact assessment had been approved two years ago, paving the way for the signing of the agreement.

“We applaud the fact we have been able to empower a black-owned enterprise to once again propel the participation of black-owned organisations in this sector. This is how we are going to continue in the future to try to remove barriers. We have to allow new entrants into our space. We have to transform the industry,” she said.

“We are very proud we can have a  100% black-owned company operating in the port and officially partnering with Transnet. From the start it has been a very ambitious project but it has also been very much attainable,” she said.

“It has been a journey — it hasn’t been easy — but it is worth it and, as we move forward with the lessons we have learned, we need to try and compress the timelines to allow people access into our business and into this industry,” Phillips said.

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Construction is underway on the new terminal, being built by a black empowerment entrepreneur, which is already 80% leased

TNPA chairperson Tshokolo Nchocho said the project represented a “most significant and transformative” investment in the country’s port system.

“This project … between Mnambithi and TNPA is a remarkable achievement which demonstrates what can be achieved when the government and private sector engage in cooperation,” Nchoncho said.

Nchocho said TNPA and Mnambithi Terminals had worked diligently on the planning and development of the project over the past two and a half years.

“A lot of that hard work has successfully concluded in the terminal operation agreement we are celebrating today. We look forward to this very substantive transformation initiative in the liquid bulk industry, in this part of the world, and in South Africa as a whole,” he said.