After more than eight years of planning, the redevelopment of the New Harbour is slowly starting, with the newly-refurbished slipway cradle being the first project to be taken into service.

This upgrade, part of the Small Harbours’ Programme – known as Operation Phakisa – is part of a broader R400 million scheme to upgrade the Western Cape’s 13 fishing harbours to boost economic development in the maritime sphere.

According to the Department of Public Works’ (DoPW) construction projects manager, Mustakim Gierdien, further developments during the first phase will include refurbishing the old Lusitania premises near the harbour entrance into a multi-purpose centre for locals and tourists alike. It will comprise, among others, a craft market, ablution facilities, a bus stop and a venue for events.

Gierdien said that this part of the project has been approved and that a contractor will soon be appointed.

Solly Madikane, Overstrand Municipality’s Director of Local Economic Development, said they are happy about the developments at the harbour. “This has been a long process and we are hopeful that the rest of the first phase will commence as soon as possible. Creating a multi-functional area for tourists will further establish the harbour as a destination, with the potential to generate much-needed tourism income.”

An atmosphere of great excitement filled the harbour last Thursday as the newly-refurbished slipway cradle was inaugurated with a practice run. The trial involved the gentle scooping up by the shiny new orange cradle of the 60-ton Tigerfish, a commercial long-line tuna fishing boat from Hout Bay. Cables were then used to haul the wooden boat up the slipway and onto the dry dock, where, over the following two days, its lower extremities were scrubbed clean of barnacles and painted a dashing new red.

Gierdien said the Hermanus harbour upgrade is a precursor to this broader vision. “This is Phase 0. First, we need to get the harbours to a functional state, as they have deteriorated over the years due to a lack of regular maintenance. We are aligned with the government’s Operation Phakisa which aims to unlock the potential of South Africa’s vast coastline.”

Pimp our port!

One of the stipulations of the upgrading contract was that the work be carried out by a competent engineering firm, preferably owned locally and by someone from a previously disadvantaged background.

The 20-ton Tigerfish, a commercial long-line tuna fishing boat was scooped up by the shiny, new orange slipway cradle at the New Harbour last week.

Gierdien said that, despite searching and endeavouring to “keep it local, keep it lekker”, it was not possible to find such a company in the Hermanus area and Javan Fabrications from Epping in Cape Town, a steel manufacturing company from a formerly marginalised community, won the tender.

“We were totally overwhelmed by the quality of the work by Javan Fabrications, the time they took and the cost. It all met with our approval beforehand and, once on site, Javan more than proved itself and we were impressed with how the company applied itself professionally, especially in this rare, highly specialised maritime engineering field.”

Local people from the Hermanus area, however, were trained and upskilled while being employed as workers on the project. They have now acquired the necessary skills to work in the industry.

“They have been encouraged not to leave the maritime industry now that these invaluable skills have been transferred to them. Apart from replacing decaying infrastructure, we at the department also want to help uplift communities and see them develop. We want to impart skills and ensure that what we have replaced can be maintained locally,” said Gierdien, who, through the Small Harbours’ Rescue initiative, has also been overseeing the training of former abalone poachers in Hermanus and Hout Bay, to enable them to become accredited commercial divers.

The Hermanus New Harbour was built in 1948 and, until recently, none of the ageing and rusting equipment had been completely replaced, only partially maintained and repaired. The Hermanus slipway had not been functioning “for years”, according to Gierdien and some commercial operators based at the harbour.

The state-owned enterprise, the Coega Development Corporation (CDC), was mandated by the DoPW to, among others, implement the harbour upgrades so as to “provide a competitive investment location, supported by value-added business services that effectively enables socio-economic development in the Eastern Cape and the rest of South Africa”.

Said Gierdien: “Since 2011, a requirement from one of our clients, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF, formerly the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, DAFF), is that we draft spatial and socio-economic development plans to economically boost areas identified as being in need. Such plans are aligned to the National Development Plan (NDP) and its vision up to 2030.”

This project prequel has taken almost 10 years to see the light of day as a result of the relatively slow-turning wheels of bureaucracy, which required funding to be approved from Treasury.

The 13 Western Cape harbours were initially established to service the needs of both commercial and subsistence fishing. Over the decades the harbours have developed into serving much more than just small-scale fishing needs and now offer the potential for large-scale tourism and entrepreneurial development.

However, the infrastructure and management of the harbours did not develop in line with this trend to explore and benefit fully from their potential.

During 2016 and 2017, after research was done, various general constraints to the optimum development and use of the harbours were identified. In the case of the New Harbour, non-market-related rentals, a system of inconsistent lease agreements with the DoPW and DEFF, and impractical space allocations for tenants and users were, among others, pinpointed as particularly crucial areas that need to be addressed.

It is expected that Operation Phakisa will add some R177 billion to the economy and create more than a million jobs over the next 15 years.

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