Transport operators in South Africa face an uncertain 2024

Published Dec 4, 2023


“Transport operators face a 2024 of uncertainty due to the global geopolitical upheaval, economic instability, the elections, rising fuel costs, a heightened risk of fatal incidents, and violent social unrest that usually first targets transporters,” Justin Manson, sales director of Bridgestone’s global fleet management solution Webfleet said at the weekend.

He said South Africa’s elections were likely to be held in the dark in many places, as load shedding persists. “The intense conflicts in eastern Europe and the Middle East provide a tense backdrop to the global struggle to control energy resources,” he said.

According to Mordor Intelligence's South Africa Freight and Logistics Market Analysis, the South Africa freight and logistics market size was estimated at $21.53 billion this year and was expected to reach $30.56bn by 2029 growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.01% during the forecast period between now and 2029..

The fleet management solution provider said SA fleets also faced internal and external pressures as thousands of trucks clogged South African border points and ports, causing shipping companies to levy congestion surcharges.

Manson said inadequate investment in road, rail, and port infrastructure had left tens of thousands of containers stranded off the coast of Durban Harbour.

“Critical cargo equipment shortages mean the bottleneck won’t be cleared for months. Until then, thousands of trucks clog South African border points and ports, causing shipping companies to levy congestion surcharges and customers to double their transport costs using air freight.”

He said a well-functioning rail system would ease the burden on roads, giving room for upgrades without increasing crashes at work sites. Enhanced road surfaces and increased capacity would enable transport providers to unlock the full benefits of onboard and virtual technologies.

“leet managers must enforce safety rules, develop comprehensive training programmes focusing on early warning systems and AI-powered technology,” Webfleet said.

Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, an economist and deputy dean for Research Commerce, Administration and Law Faculty at the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) said many anticipated a hung Parliament with opposition parties garnering more votes.

“The fear is if the radical left become the ‘king makers’ then South Africa will shift further leftwards politically and that will exacerbate an unfriendly business environment,” Kaseeram said.

He said the worst case scenario would be investors in the trucking industry withholding scarce investment funds to maintain a well functioning fleet in an attempt to ‘wait and see’ the outcome of the elections. If the anticipated government shifts further left, this was likely to lead to a fair amount of disinvestment in the industry, he said.

Kaseeram said the ANC government had made overtures to the liberal parties in the recent past, in the interest of allaying fears of a shift to the left and attempting to convince concerned citizens that a stable South African polity would predominate.

The professor said the government, rail (Transnet), road (SANRAL), and the port authorities needed to demonstrate that the public-private partnership was the most efficient way for South Africa to promote efficiency by engaging with all stakeholders including the fleet managers, about governance issues, infrastructure investment and the future stability of the country.

Webfleet said fleet operators should consider advanced driver training to optimise vehicle features and AI-powered telematics capabilities, and education across the fleet value chain, from control room managers to other motorists, was crucial.

It said that by harnessing AI, fleet managers could automate maintenance scheduling based on factors such as vehicle age, mileage, and usage patterns.