Unlocking South Africa’s oceans

By on November 12, 2014

Surrounded on three sides by ocean, South Africa is a seafaring nation, but it is not a big part of the national identity. The South African Marine Safety Authority (SAMSA) is at the forefront of identifying and capitalising on the vast potential waiting to be unlocked in South Africa’s oceans.

The oceans around South Africa offer a wealth of potential that extends far beyond fish and food, explains Commander Tsietsi Mokhele, CEO of SAMSA. “South Africa has some of the most amazing coastal towns, and coastal activities, but we don’t have a fully articulated marine strategy for attracting tourism. In America, 80 percent of tourism revenues are linked to marine related activities.”

Despite the countless iconic costal towns along South Africa’s coastline and the country’s focus on tourism, there is not one beach resort in South Africa. SAMSA is looking to address this shortage and place focus on water sports and water-related activities in attracting tourists to the country.

Maritime university

As part of its strategy for unlocking the potential of South Africa’s oceans, SAMSA is looking to establish the country as a leader in all things marine. In November, SAMSA is launching a maritime institute with the aim of it eventually becoming a fully-fledged university.

“We’ve been working on it for quite a number of years because we’ve got 23 universities in the country and it’s a very difficult environment to negotiate – the question is always ‘Why do we need another one?’ So we went for the in between route by partnering with an existing university. We made a detailed proposition and the uptake has been phenomenal,” says Commander Mokhele.

The idea is to incorporate marine into existing courses so seafarers will be able to gain specific expertise. “For engineers, we can accommodate marine; if they are doing economics, we can teach them maritime economics,” adds Commander Mokhele.

The institute will based out of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. “The Eastern Cape is well-positioned for it. They’ve got routes: they are very strong on marine sciences, they’ve got a lot of projects in the water supporting marine sciences, they’ve got very active leaderships, and so on. We have gotten to a point where we are ready to announce the establishment of the institute to start off housed within Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and then the numbers will push it off from being a faculty to being a stand-alone university,” explains Commander Mokhele.

National Development Plan and Operation Phakisa

SAMSA has seen the potential of South Africa’s oceans for quite some time but, despite its suggestions, there is no ocean element or focus in the National Development Plan (NDP). However, that is changing.

Earlier this year, SAMSA was told by the planning commission that it has now become aware that maritime is a vital economic sector and the ocean is a resource that can be commercialised. Cabinet then told the Department of Environmental Affairs to do a study for Cabinet to examine the oceans potential.

“The numbers were a shock, to all of us: The maritime sector today can contribute R177-billion with very, very little effort. R7-billion can create employment for 800 000 to one million people, according to the study.”

Operation Phakisa is a results-driven approach, involving setting clear plans and targets, on-going monitoring of progress and making these results public.

The methodology consists of eight sequential steps. It focusses on bringing key stakeholders from the public and private sectors, academia as well as civil society organisations together to collaborate in:

  • Detailed problem analysis
  • Priority setting
  • Intervention planning
  • Delivery

These collaboration sessions are called laboratories (labs). The results of the labs are detailed (3 foot) plans with ambitious targets as well as public commitment on the implementation of the plans by all stakeholders.

The implementation of the plans are rigorously monitored and reported on. Implementation challenges are actively managed for effective and efficient resolution.

Operation Phakisa are initially implemented in two sectors, the ocean economy and health, and is adapted from thr highly successful Big Fast Results approach used by the Malaysian Government to address key priority areas such as poverty crime and unemployment.

The areas with the most potential include marine transport and shipping, oil and gas, fisheries and aquaculture, and maintenance.

Marine transport and shipping

There is huge interest in investment in South Africa’s shipping transport infrastructure. Ships arrive and depart from countries all over the world, delivering goods for companies with equally global interests. This means that investment in our ports and shipping can and will come from all over the globe.

Oil and gas

The largest deposit of shale gas in recent times has been discovered in Mozambique, and current estimates say that South Africa has enough deposits to fuel our economy for the next 350 years, at current levels of energy consumption. However, it is all offshore and an effective maritime strategy is required to ensure the most benefit.

Fisheries and aquaculture

SAMSA looked at the fisheries and found that most of the issues can be dealt with fairly cheaply and easily to maximise its benefit to the economy. This being said, it is aqua culture that provides the biggest opportunity for South Africa.

“We are producing about R800-million through aquaculture but could be producing R4.6 billion to 5.6-billion just by doing certain things differently. The worldwide consumption of fish stocks has long outstripped the ocean’s capacity to naturally produce. Think about it: We are the only country surrounded by three oceans. No one has got what we have: Cold water, temperate water, warm water, and where they meet are our unique fish stocks. Therefore, we could position South Africa as a major fisheries semi-centre,” says Commander Mokhele.


The marine repair and maintenance industry holds arguably the most instant potential. Currently 179 oilrigs pass by the South African coast per year. Currently we only have the capacity to repair about four per annum and this generates R1.4 billion. The rest need to travel to Singapore or further at great expense to receive the maintenance they require.

“They’ve been calling South Africa but we are not providing the facilities. They pass through here, it costs them a fortune, those massive structures are costly, and then they must be hauled-back for repairs. The issue is that the local stakeholders are not talking with each other.”

Strategy for success

Over the last two years South Africa was involved in putting together Africa’s first maritime strategy for the ocean economy. This is already starting to bear fruit as the heads of state in Ethiopia adopted the strategy earlier this year.

“South Africa is the largest mover of goods on the continent, so it was always in our best interest to recognise the fact that when Shoprite goes into Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, etc. they need to move goods into those countries. But if you just have stores on either side, but no trading, transportation, or logistic systems they will fail. Africa  holds too much potential for that, so ocean transportation is the major mover of these things. It was very important that we take cognisance of the strategy interest of one another to say ‘How do we supply quicker to that market – so they get fresh goods? And how do you make sure that the brand owners this side maximise their value?’” asks Commander Mokhele

Seventy percent of the countries on the continent are connected by the waterways directly. If you are here, in any of the oceans, you can reach 39 countries out of 55 through ocean transportation. That is why next year the African Union will be declaring the following 10 years, till 2025, as the ‘Decade of African Seas and Oceans’, and South Africa will be at the forefront.

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