Multi-billion rand dig-out port to displace small-scale farmers

Transnet’s proposed multi-billion rand Durban Dig-Out Port (DDOP) has been met with protest action from small-scale vegetable farmers and NGOs.

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Transnet bought the former Durban International Airport site in Prospecton from the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) last year to secure additional port capacity. The site includes 40ha of adjoining farmland, and 16 small-scale farmers, operating on a 30-day lease, will be displaced by the proposed port expansion.

“We have been farming here since 1988. Transnet wants us off the land by 2015, but they have offered us no alternative land for farming,” said Siga Govender, chairperson of the Airport Farmers’ Association. The farmers employ 100 workers and grow a range of crops, including cabbage, spinach, coriander, marigolds and maize, which are sold to local street markets and larger supermarkets.

“This land is my livelihood. Over the years we’ve lost subsidies for diesel, fertiliser and seeds, as well as flood and drought relief. We used to have fully-qualified extension officers and we lost them too. Now we are going to lose our land. We’re eagerly waiting to hear whether Transnet will relocate us,” said Govender.

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Environmental and community organisations from pollution hotspots in KwaZulu-Natal, the Vaal Triangle and the Highveld, took part in the recent march. The groups were attending the People’s Climate Camp in Durban to show resistance to projects that damage the climate, the environment and people.

However, DDOP programme director Marc Descoins said the dig-out port was essential to ensure the future relevance of the Durban Port, which was fast running out of capacity to meet container handling and storage demands. Descoins said Transnet would engage the farmers and their representatives on the relocation issue.

“The construction of the proposed port is only expected to start in early 2016. Transnet has indicated that it is willing to enter into three-year contracts with the farmers,” he said. The DDOP was fundamental to the Durban-Free State-Gauteng Freight Corridor, a strategic project to improve logistics and economic integration between Durban and Gauteng and unlock SA’s trade opportunities, said Descoins. “When fully operational, the DDOP will positively impact the nation’s GDP by about R56 billion a year and create about 28 000 full-time jobs.”

Container vessels had more than doubled in size in the past decade and required a modern, deep-water port. “New-generation shipping vessels are longer, wider and deeper. If the new port is not developed, SA will not be able to compete with ports in the region that are investing heavily in infrastructure,” said Descoins