Ndlovu: S’Africa, Nigeria Must Form Stronger Ties To Improve Competitiveness
Zeph Ndlovu is the President of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, (DCCI), South Africa, and the General Manager, Risk and Corporate Affairs of state-owned Transnet Port Terminals. In this interview with IKECHUKWU ONYEWUCHI, he says that Nigeria and South Africa should form stronger ties to tackle regional and individual problems.
WHAT do you make of South Africa-Nigeria relations in recent years, and how can the two countries leverage their leading position in Africa to cause integrated development amid impoverished neighbours?
FROM a South African perspective, Nigeria is a very big trading partner. We are part of Africa and one of the two biggest economies in the continent, but beyond that, we are looking at the port system in the Eastern and Western Coasts of Africa as being complementary to each other. Africa has about 1.1 billion people and, while Nigeria has about 180 million of that, South Africa has 52 million. There is a lot in common that we need to explore.
For example, we have trade relations between the two countries, which is very key. MTN is in Nigeria and is from South Africa. We believe they are adding value in terms of expanding communication as well as enabling communication among Nigerians, barring some of the technical issues, which I hope would be sorted out in not so distant future.
As far as shipping is concerned, I believe that Nigeria is a very important hub in the west coast. If you look at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the country holds a lot of stakes. And the body itself is an important economic bloc. The country is playing a very pivotal role in placing West Africa very high. Therefore, exchange between South Africa and Nigeria and other African countries are going to be very key in ensuring that we become peer partners in progress, investments and performance, and for us to be able to exchange learning, moving forward.
The container terminal in Lagos is about 1 million TEUs and I believe it is a critical mass on its own. It has to be grown because the demand is very high. There is need, however, for Nigeria to improve on its land transportation leg. The roads are very congested. We strongly advocate for railway network as well as the inland waterways for us to be able to reach the hinterlands that we are interested in, especially in terms of economic development and market reach.
Politically, I think we have a very strong relationship with Nigeria. Right from the dark days of Apartheid, Nigeria opened her doors to many of our brothers and sisters, and many of our stalwarts were harboured in the country. Many of them used Nigeria as a conduit to reach Europe. We view that as a strong political partnership. In my capacity as President of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I was fortunate to meet Nigeria’s Vice President in Johannesburg. He had come on a private visit and I came as member of a group of business people from South Africa. He is a wonderful gentleman and the level of wisdom he has, I have no doubt that Nigeria is in good hands, in terms of political wisdom. Coming from different religious groups, with one being Christian and the other a muslim, I believe he is going to make a wonderful partnership with the president that would bring unity for Nigeria. I believe Nigeria and South Africa have a good future, but I plead that we must have continuous engagement for us to be able to move forward. Nigeria has a huge market with its population, just as South Africa has a relatively big population.
You made comments on the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, saying that those who perpetuated the acts were misguided; how has that incident impacted on the business relations, especially because the attacks were targeted at other African nationals?
Yes, I did say that on an international TV channel. I said those responsible for the attacks were misguided, and we had to call them to order. Some of them were arrested. But I can tell you now that South Africa is home to many Nigerians. We have Nigerian families and cross marriages between Nigerians and South Africans. We are one big family at the end of the day. I think we should concentrate on improving our nations’ and economic fortune. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Africa has to be led by South Africa and Nigeria, and we can only do that if we hold each other’s hands. I am excited to be in Nigeria. I was, in fact, supposed to be in Malta, where a lot of business leaders are gathered, but I decided to come to Nigeria because of the importance of the country for us.
What are your expectations from the new government, especially in the areas of ease of doing business in Nigeria?
Business all over the world has its own challenges. But we have many South African businesses in Nigeria that have made their presence here. We have Shoprite, MTN and other businesses that have been able to make it here. We have to look on the positive side. If you look at the ease of doing business on its own, the Customs Service would look at ways to maximise revenue gain for government, which is good. It has to be done. But between South Africa and Nigeria, we have to be careful not to use that as a lever to block any economic growth. I believe that through teamwork among the South African customs union and its Nigerian counterpart and ECOWAS, we should find a way. South Africa is part of the South Africa Development Community (SADEC) in the south, where we work with everybody to promote development and economic activities. We do that beyond our borders as well and Nigeria cannot be an exception. So it’s a method of making sure that through the African Union business forums we are able to address some of the customs-related issues.
I don’t consider it an issue and I strongly believe that the Nigeria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which we met in Italy in June, who are very enthusiastic, has enough commitment to see that some of the issues are addressed. We have signed bilateral and MoUs to work as a collective and as a team for progress.
As a foreigner, what do you think are the major challenges facing the shipping business in Nigeria?
Nigeria has the largest reserves of oil and gas in Africa. Its mainstay in terms of exports happens to be those two natural resources — oil and gas. For exportation, they have to go through bulk tankers. The maritime industry is one of the biggest ways we do that. About 98 per cent of exportation takes place through sea port transport. Therefore, ports are very important. We compared notes at this comference with Nigerian officials on the ports system in the two countries. We still have a lot of room for improvement but not limiting ourselves to comparison between Nigeria and South Africa. We need to say, for instance, how do we compare to Singapore and some ports in America and Europe. Both of us must take that challenge.
As far as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is concerned, I think that is the area of competence of our national governments in terms of signing bilateral agreements with the international community. Let me share the South African experience. For Tansnet, our asset value used to be in the region of 150 to 200bn Rands. That had a limitation on how we could go to the international bodies to borrow for us to be able to expand, maintain infrastructure and create capacity ahead of demand. We had to go to the international market to raise our own bonds in order to fund most of these activities. As such, we rolled out an investment to the tune of 230bn Rands, which is equivalent to about $24bn. It is going to be committed to infrastructural development of rails, pipelines, but importantly, the port system.