Tapping into South Africa’s ocean economy


There is much more to South Africa’s oceans than just a holiday attraction. They have the potential to create 70 000 jobs and add more than R30-billion to our economy over the next four years, writes Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.

Perpetual Ocean articleSouth Africa is uniquely bordered by the cold Atlantic in the west, the warm Indian Ocean in the east and the Southern Ocean in the south, giving our coastal waters exceptionally biodiverse ecosystems. (Image: Nasa Perpetual Ocean)

Our oceans are often associated with fun and relaxation, particularly at this time of the year when many South Africans head down to the coast for the summer holiday.

However, there is much more to oceans than just a holiday attraction. They have the potential to add more than R30-billion to our economy over the next four years.

Initiatives have already been implemented within sectors such as marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, aquaculture, small harbours development and coastal and marine tourism as sectors that can create jobs, while work has begun to put in place an ocean governance regime.

This is part of Operation Phakisa, our national initiative to implement policies and programmes faster and more effectively, to make inroads into the ocean economy. It is also one of the job drivers in the nine-point plan that aims to grow the economy, create jobs, transform the economy and attract investment.


Operation Phakisa is modelled on the success of the Malaysian “Big Fast Results” methodology that was used to spur that country’s economic transformation. It brought together government, labour, business, civil society and academia to develop detailed plans that would unlock opportunities within the ocean.

We chose the ocean economy as this sector remains largely untapped. South Africa is blessed with an about 3 924-kilometre-long coastline which not only includes mainland South Africa, but also our two sub-Antarctic islands within the Southern Ocean – Prince Edward and Marion islands.

We are also uniquely bordered by the cold Atlantic on the west, the warm Indian Ocean on the east and the Southern Ocean on the south, which makes our oceans exceptional in terms of ecosystems and its biodiversity.

Moreover, the development of the ocean economy is part of government’s commitment to move South Africa forward and address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Through the implementation of projects the aim is to create more than 70 000 jobs over the next four years and increase the GDP contribution of the oceans by more than R30-billion.

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The government has committed funding to ensure that we create an enabling environment which will attract private sector investment, thus creating the necessary jobs for our people. Through the implementation, the government is committed to ensure the participation of women, the youth and expanding the small business sector.

We are investing substantially in our ports, from refurbishment and maintenance, to developing new infrastructure for ship and boat building and repair and to service the oil and gas sectors for rig repairs, while at the same time increasing the efficiency of our ports. Through these initiatives, 177 construction jobs have been created so far.

Work has begun on the Saldanha Bay projects which in total is a R9.2 billion public private sector investment. The use of more local components for ship building will also support our local manufacturing industry. Through our efforts, there is already a commitment for the production of catamarans in Port Elizabeth, which will unlock an investment of R1.25 billion in contracts over the next five years and create around 500 jobs.

To further expand opportunities, upgrades in small harbours such as Gansbaai, Saldanha Bay, Struisbaai, Gordons Bay and Lamberts Bay have already began, with the prioritisation of Port Alfred, Cape St Francis, Hondeklipbaai, Port Shepstone, Port Grosvernor and Port Edward over the next four years.

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These upgrades will boost the local economy and improve job creation in these small towns. They will also become more attractive to investors for marine and offshore aquaculture and tourism destinations.

South Africa has potential to grow the oil and gas sectors and will over the next few years expend effort to explore its potential. Secondary industries have already emerged – the Burgan Fuel storage facility in the port of Cape Town, which will create 150 construction jobs initially, with a private sector investment of R650-billion. Further commitment of US$50-million has been earmarked for secondary industries within the oil sector at Coega.

Our bold decision to explore ocean economy includes the aquaculture sector to support rural economic development inland as well as coastal communities, which have limited work opportunities. Aquaculture projects, both fresh water and marine, will ensure growth of this sector to the tune of R3-billion by 2019. The Departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Trade and Industry have already supported 15 000 jobs across the value chain.

We have already supported 10 fish farms and approved water lease space of 85 hectares with more than 500 jobs already created. This unlocked private sector investment of over R300 million with the government committing round R100-million.

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Further projects are being assessed to expand the aquaculture industry. An Inter-Departmental Authorisations Committee is fast tracking aquaculture applications to reduce the processing time from 890 days to 240 days.

The government is balancing the economic opportunities afforded by our oceans with the stringent protection of our marine biodiversity and resources, being committed to the principles of sustainable development.

Through the proposed Marine Spatial Planning Legislation, we will not only ensure more coordinated and sustainable use of the ocean, but also guard against illegal activities within the ocean space.

The Oceans Economy that now includes tourism will also ensure that our coastal areas remain a holiday destination of choice. Recreational facilities will be upgraded to include boat launching facilities, recreational fishing and mini retail areas within the beach precincts to further attract tourists to our treasured asset.

As you relax on the beach this holiday, look further than the blue waters to see the full potential of our oceans. Mostly, consider how you can join in the development of its riches.