A MULTIMILLION-RAND small-craft harbour project is set to breathe life into the town of Port Shepstone on the South Coast by generating major revenue and creating several opportunities for the region.
The development, which has generated excitement in the Ugu district, has been endorsed by the Ray Nkonyeni Municipality, which said it had consistently emphasised the need to explore maritime opportunities because of its location along the coastline.
“There is the potential to develop a small-craft harbour to boost maritime tourism for the KZN South Coast, as it is one of the country’s busiest tourism destinations, as well as a possible first step to establishing South Africa’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for Tourism and Maritime Access in line with international best practice. One may Google SEZ Tourism to envision this very real potential,” said the municipality in a statement.
It added that it was putting policies and incentives in place to encourage individuals to come forward with ideas for projects focused on attracting investment and jobs to the South Coast.
According to the developers, the Port Shepstone Harbour Company, the project is the end result of years of research dating back to 2005 when the Local Municipality Development Agency first commissioned a feasibility assessment for a small-craft facility in Port Shepstone.
It said the municipality had over the years engaged with government stakeholders and held workshops to explore the potential for a new maritime “points of access” small-craft harbour, based on government’s “Operation Phakisa” initiative to develop South Africa’s Blue Ocean economy.
It added that the town’s central location on the N2 southern corridor to the Eastern Cape, and being a safe haven to one of the world’s busiest sea lanes with an exposed coastline between Durban and East London, made it an ideal spot for such a facility.
The Port Shepstone Harbour Company was established under guidance from Trade and Investment KZN (TIKZN), as a 50% broad-based black economic empowerment legal entity to champion the initiative through a customer service plan agreement with TIKZN.
The Port Shepstone Harbour Company said: “This arrangement will ensure high-level guidance, facilitation and professionalism through the legislative and statutory protocols enabling investment, planning, implementation, proclamation, operation and management all aligned with the Municipal Finance Management Act and Operation Phakisa.
“The proposed small craft harbour is earmarked for municipal-owned and controlled public land and a state amenity reserve directly in front of the Port Shepstone Railway Station. The location enables direct rail access to Durban with a fully functional standard gauge line along the coastline that is maintained by Transnet.”
The company added that the craft harbour site’s location in the vicinity of the recently refurbished Port Shepstone lighthouse and the growth of lighthouse tourism meant that the town would be a hive of activity throughout the year.
Speaking to The Mercury yesterday, TIKZN chief executive Neville Matjie said they were excited about the project because of the potential it offered, and the opportunities that would arise out of it. He noted that Port Shepstone and the South Coast region had lagged behind in development over the past years as most focus in the maritime field had been on Durban and the North Coast, and stressed that the initiative was set to be a game-changer.
“We are 100% behind this project because we believe that it will serve as a nucleus for a whole range of initiatives that will arise out of it,” said Matjie.
He added that they had been working with the team throughout the early stages of the project, and had also been in contact with other countries that had similar initiatives, including Brazil.
“The reason for doing such case studies is to understand how they went about their initiatives, the number and the types of challenges they faced, and the successes that were recorded so that there is a good understanding of how to go about the project,” the chief executive said.
The first Port Shepstone harbour was constructed in the 1800s and improved over the years to accommodate ships from Norway and supplies from Durban, and remnants of the old harbour wall are still in place as a historical monument incorporating the popular fishing pier known as “The Block”.