South Africa has a modern and well-developed transport infrastructure. The air and rail networks are the largest on the continent, and the roads in good condition. The country’s ports provide a natural stopover for shipping to and from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australasia and both coasts of Africa.
The transport sector has been highlighted by the government as a key contributor to South Africa’s competitiveness in global markets. It is regarded as a crucial engine for economic growth and social development, and the government has unveiled plans to spend billions of rands to improve the country’s roads, railways and ports.
South Africa’s transport network
Ports and shipping
Major shipping lanes pass along the South African coastline in the south Atlantic and Indian oceans. Approximately 96% of the country’s exports are conveyed by sea, and the eight commercial ports are the conduits for trade between South Africa and its southern African partners as well as hubs for traffic to and from Europe, Asia, the Americas and the east and west coasts of Africa.
The commercial ports are: Richards Bay and Durban in KwaZulu-Natal; East London, Port Elizabeth and the Port of Ngqura in the Eastern Cape; and Mossel Bay, Cape Town and Saldanha in the Western Cape.
The state-owned Transnet National Ports Authority (NPA) manages the ports, while Transnet Port Terminals, formerly known as SAPO, is responsible for managing port and cargo terminal operations.
The Port of Ngqura was completed in 2006. Developed off the coast from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, Nqura is the deepest container terminal in Africa, and is a key part of Coega, one of the country’s strategic industrial development zones (IDZs).
Durban is Africa’s busiest port and the largest container facility in southern Africa, while Richard’s Bay is the world’s largest bulk coal terminal.
Located between these two ports is the Dube Trade Port. Launched in March 2012, the port includes King Shaka International Airport. Operated by the Dube Trade Port Corporation, a state-owned company, the port includes a cargo terminal, trade zone, agrizone and IT and telecommunications platform.
The old Durban International Airport will be turned into a multibillion-rand dug-out port by Transnet. Expected to be ready by 2019, development plans include the creation of an automotive component supplier park around the port.
South Africa’s total road network is about 747 000km, the longest network of roads of any African country. The drive from Musina on South Africa’s northern border to Cape Town in the south is a 2 000km journey on well-maintained roads.
While the Department of Transport is responsible for overall policy, road-building and maintenance is the responsibility of the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) as well as the nine provinces and local governments.
Sanral is responsible for the country’s network of national roads, which cover around 16 200km. There are about 185 000km of provincial roads, and the municipal network totals around 66 000km, according to the SA Institute of Civil Engineering.
Around 19% of the national roads are toll roads, most of which are maintained by Sanral, while the rest have been concessioned to private companies to develop, operate and maintain.
A multi-billion rand freeway improvement scheme has significantly eased congestion on the roads in Gauteng, the country’s busiest province.
S’hamba Sonke (“walking together’) is a labour-intensive road maintenance programme, with projects run by the provinces to upgrade and repair roads in rural areas.
South Africa’s Public Transport Strategy plans to integrate rail, taxi and bus services in co-operation with private operators, both operationally and through ownership. Johannesburg’s successes with the Bus Rapid Transport System (BRT) has led to it being adapted and implemented in other South African cities, including Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay, Rustenburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni.
As the vast majority of South Africans use taxis as their prime transport, the government has introduced compulsory safety standards and a taxi recapitalisation programme, which gets rids of unsafe taxis through a scrapping allowance.
South Africa has an extensive rail network – the 14th longest in the world – connecting with networks in the sub-Saharan region. The country’s rail infrastructure, which connects the ports with the rest of South Africa, represents about 80% of Africa’s total.
Improving the country’s 20 247km rail network is a top government priority, with projects aiming to increase freight rail volumes and increase market share of container traffic.
The rail network is managed by the Department of Public Enterprises via Transnet. Transnet Freight Rail is the largest railroad and heavy haulier in southern Africa, with about 21 000km of rail network, of which about 1 500km are heavy haul lines. Just over 8 200km of the lines are electrified.
Passenger rail is also being completely overhauled, with a 20-year fleet renewal programme in place to buy more than 7 200 new trains. Managed and implemented by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), the programme focuses on revitalising the local industry through local manufacturing of components. The existing rail network will be upgraded to take advantage of the new coaches’ technological features.
Around 2.2-million people travel by train every day in South Africa. Metrorail commuter services can be found in Cape Town, the Eastern Cape Province, Durban, and greater Johannesburg and Pretoria, focusing mainly on poorer South Africans.
Tourists and well-heeled passengers can travel on the Blue Train, one of the world’s most famous luxury trains, while Shosholoza Meyl transports passengers between the country’s major cities.
The Gautrain, Africa’s only high-speed train, was opened just days before the start of the World Cup in 2010. Servicing Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport, it is supported by a network of feeder buses. About 40 000 people use the service every day.
The Gautrain can travel at speeds of 160 km/h, enabling commuters to make the trip from Johannesburg to Pretoria in less than 40 minutes.
Airports and airlines
South Africa’s 10 airports handle more than 98% of the country’s commercial traffic, with 200 000 aircraft landings and 10-million departing passengers annually.
The R20-billion airports upgrade ahead of the World Cup in 2010 focused on OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, Cape Town International, and the new airport, King Shaka International, outside Durban. The seven smaller airports are domestic airports: Port Elizabeth, East London, George, Kimberley, Upington and Pilanesberg.
State-owned Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) is responsible for managing the country’s airports and improving productivity of its airports. Other airports include Lanseria (Midrand), Gateway (Polokwane), Nelspruit and Kruger (Mpumalanga).
In 2012, South African Airways (SAA) was voted the best airline in Africa for the 10th year in a row by UK global aviation research organisation Skytrax.
South African Airways (SAA) is by far the largest air carrier in Africa, with connections to more than 28 cities across the continent. As a Star Alliance member, SAA also offers its customers 1 356 destinations in 193 countries and 21 500 flights daily.