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Transnet dig-out port proposal in Durban, South Africa

Transnet proposed to build an expansion for Durban Harbour. Activists and community members fought against it for a decade owing to the potential for significant social and ecological consequences.


In May 2010, the Durban International Airport was decommissioned after King Shaka International Airport opened. In 2012, Transnet bought the land for $108 million with the intention to build a dig-out port terminal expanding the Port of Durban (also called Durban Harbour) that would accommodate 16 container berths, five automotive berths and four liquid bulk berths [3, 4]. This would be South Africa’s biggest single location-specific investment project ($25 billion) expanding the port eight-fold over the next three decades [5]. The government backed the project, promising it would create 20,000 direct and 47,000 indirect jobs during construction [3]. The government and various investors were also interested in using the port to transport oil from Durban to Johannesburg. A new pipeline Durban to Johannesburg has been built already.  One such outside stakeholder was the Chinese Development Bank, which invested $5 billion in Transnet during the Durban BRICS summit in March 2013 for extending infrastructure for coal exports to China and India [8].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Transnet dig-out port proposal in Durban, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:KwaZulu-Natal
Location of conflict:Durban
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Ports and airport projects
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Durban’s annual 350 millions tons of cargo accounts for 60% of SA imports that arrive in order of percentage from the European Union, China, USA, Nigeria, India, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Thailand, Angola and United Arab Emirates. The top 10 export destinations in order of percentage are listed as the European Union, China, USA, Namibia, Japan, India, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong. Durban Harbour retains the number one position as the busiest harbour in sub Saharan Africa and fourth in the Southern Hemisphere. While Transnet envisages an accumulative contribution of R137-billion to the GDP by 2033, the harbour’s existing pier one is being extended to accommodate an annual additional one million containers. Existing berths closer to the terminals are being widened and deepened to accommodate larger ships, at an envisaged cost of R14.4-billion by 2022/3, as opposed to the inception of the dig-out port off the Prospecton coast [4].

Project area:1,854
Level of Investment for the conflictive project25,000,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:11/04/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Transnet from South Africa
International and Finance InstitutionsChinese Development Bank from China
Brics New Development Bank
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Airport Farmers’ Association, BirdLife SA, The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, KwaZulu-Natal Subsistence Fishermen Association, groundWork, Earthlife Africa, Friends of the Earth, South African Waste Pickers’ Association
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Wastepickers, recyclers
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Global warming, Noise pollution
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Oil spills, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The project is suspended for now, but investors are still funding the project.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. Durban’s contested port-petrochemical complex (Bond 2016)
[click to view]

[1] News24. Community members protest displacement by Durban’s dig-out port (Ndaliso 2014)
[click to view]

[2] East Coast Radio. Environmental group opposes plans for Durban dig-out port (Lutchman 2016)
[click to view]

[3] Business Day. South Durban residents march against erection of dug-out port (Mkhize 2013)
[click to view]

[4] South Coast Sun. Dig-out port a ‘no-go’ until 2030 (2017)
[click to view]

[6] Farmer’s weekly. Multi-billion rand dig-out port to displace small-scale farmers (Joubert 2013)
[click to view]

[7] Friends of the Earth. The real people’s climate talks were in Durban (2013)
[click to view]

[8] AIDC. Odious Brics loan for Durban port project will not go unopposed (D’Sa & Bond 2018)
[click to view]

[9] Bereamail. Massive protest action against dug-out port plan (2016)
[click to view]

[10] Southland’s Sun. Protesters plan Freedom Day port blockade (2016)
[click to view]

[11] IOL. Protest against Durban dig-out port (Cole 2014)
[click to view]

[12] Southland’s Sun. Transnet responds to dig out port protestors (2014)
[click to view]

[13] Mail&Guardian. Durban communities face harbour ‘creep’ (Gedye 2012)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update10/08/2020
Conflict ID:5127
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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