Dube back on track
After a few setbacks, Africa’s first aeropolis, which will promote foreign and local investment, is ready to take off
The history of Durban’s Dube TradePort may have been dogged by a series of crooked chief executives, but the state of the art air-cargo facility seems to have shaken off the image of being a provincial white elephant. Despite air-cargo volumes remaining relatively low because of the small number of international flights in and out of Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, which is at the heart of the trade port, and a dip in the industry internationally because of economic conditions, occupancy levels are at 100%.
The second phase of Africa’s first aerotropolis has been brought forward because of increased demand.
The trade port is at the centre of a 50-year master plan to develop Durban as a major logistics gateway for southern Africa, while building up an industrial and agricultural production precinct around the airport.
It will eventually be linked directly by road and rail to the Durban harbour and provide trade corridors to Gauteng, Swaziland and Mozambique.
The project is still in its early stages, but the ultimate aim is to create a seamless road, rail, air and sea platform to serve the subcontinent.
Hamish Erskine, Dube TradePort’s acting chief executive, told City Press this week that the demand for industrial space had exceeded the sites available on the 26-hectare first phase. As a result, the start of the second phase, involving another 50ha, was brought forward with the first sites being available in 2017.
Erskine said the industrial zone had already drawn more than R1 billion of private sector investment since 2010. The second phase is expected to attract an additional R10 billion in private sector investment in infrastructure over the next decade.
The facility’s 16ha agrizone, where hydroponic flowers and vegetables are grown and packed for domestic and international markets, has been running since 2013 and will be expanded next year.
The office space is fully let and Erskine said its hotel was finally going to be occupied after a request for occupation from a major investor.
The Dube City property development, a mixed-use office, hotel and retail zone, is fully occupied and work on the second phase of a R320 million office complex began last year. The 21 500m2 complex will be leased by private equity firm Eureka Capital.
“Dube TradePort has either met or exceeded its development milestones and is well positioned for
Tongaat medium-term and long-term growth,” said Erskine.
“The primary challenge has been to take full advantage of the opportunity to build air connectivity from King Shaka International Airport. Growth in air services is a primary driver of broader growth in cargo, business and tourism. This, in turn, will affect the development of property and operations.”
Erskine said the introduction of new flights by Qatar Airways from December and the reintroduction of Air Mauritius flights would increase cargo volumes, which, while above target, were still low.
Regional flights to Lusaka and Harare were also planned for the near future.
He said international cargo volumes had grown since 2011, with 13 851 tons moving through this year.
In the first quarter of this year, the volume reached 1 877 tons, an increase of 13.6% in the same quarter of the previous year.
Erskine said an additional challenge had been to open up the land needed for the expansion of the trade port.
“Due to the time required to get the necessary environmental approval to open up new land parcels for development, we have had to put a number of developers on a waiting list for the second phase of our industrial development zones. We have been aided by the long-term investment horizon cycles of foreign investors who have, to some degree, been able to absorb the waiting period.”
Bridget Gasa, chairperson of Dube TradePort’s new board, is confident the scandals involving former chief executive officers Rohan Persad and Saxen van Coller have not affected its efficiency.
Persad resigned in 2012 over a scandal in which he allegedly solicited bribes from Worldwide Flight Services SA, which was running the facility. Van Coller was fired after her false qualifications were exposed by City Press.
Gasa said the trade port worked off a fixed organisational strategy and had met the targets set for it.
“Neither of the two have had any effect on the development or operations of the trade port,” said Gasa.
She said an anticorruption task team was still investigating corruption and fraud charges against Persad.
Van Coller is being sued for any money the state might have lost because of her fraudulent qualifications.
Lionel Dwyer, a freight forwarder who is part of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s trade and investment subcommittee, said the key challenge was to increase the amount of air cargo moving in and out of Durban.
“Most is flown into OR Tambo and trucked here. Linking the airport with the port is essential if we are to create a manufacturing and transport hub here,” he said.