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Boats, goats and sleepless nights…letter to JZ

Dear President Zuma

I’m sure you have absolutely no idea how thrilled I was this morning to read Sipho Khumalo’s report in The Mercury on your keynote address at the Richards Bay Jobs Summit and Jobs Fair yesterday. He says you “lashed the KZN business community for its lack of innovation and creativity in embracing obvious opportunities afforded by its unique coastline” and also urged them to “stop fighting over tenders”. You pointed out that they should instead be developing innovative businesses that took advantage of the coastline close to major commercial and industrial centres.

By the time I got this far in the report I was feeling pretty upbeat, but when you went on to suggest a couple of opportunities that budding young entrepreneurs could pick up on I had to stop reading while I regained my composure. “You are sitting on the sea here, with two major ports, (Durban and Richards Bay) and Mozambique’s warm sea and you do nothing about it … there is no boat that takes people from Richards Bay to Durban — nothing, but you do not see it as a possibility … between these two cities there ought to be boats to take workers to work in the morning and back in the afternoon … but you do not see it. You are too busy fighting over tenders, over who gets what,” you told them.

Your perspicacity almost floored me here. I’ve lived in Durban for 36 years and despite being unemployed for almost 20 of them never once thought of exploring this exciting avenue of opportunity.

I was further enthralled — intrigued is too mild a word — to see that you also pulled no punches in stating that Durban, as one of South Africa’s major tourist cities, was also missing opportunities by going to bed very early. “No economy can grow if you love sleeping too much,” you rather sternly pointed out.

After reading this report I immediately got on the blower to a friend who routinely travels from Durban to Richards Bay by sea to catch marlin. He uses a nine-metre boat that seats eight and is powered by two 300-horsepower motors that give it roughly the same payload and performance as a Toyota Hi Ace. The fuel bill is roughly R4 000 each way, so with 42 people and a goat with a half-price ticket the cost to the service provider would work out at a very affordable R188.23 per ticket. Add, say, 300% to cover insurance and maintenance costs, plus a little profit, and we should be able to convey workers backwards and forwards between the two cities at well under R1 000 a day — return! We must, of course, also factor in the R25 per trip we’d have to pay the driver.

There are a few obvious advantages to transporting workers by sea rather than by road. Firstly, the sea is quite wide — more than a kilometre wide in places — compared with the 10 or 12 metres of the N2 so there shouldn’t be too many head-ons. Secondly, when there are, following traffic need not wait for hours for the wreckage to be cleared up before carrying on with their journeys. The sea is fortunately self-cleaning so there would be no delay, plus — a bonus — very little in the way of funeral costs.

I loved the way your suggestion that workers commute by sea offered a very subtle solution to the second problem you commented upon — that people go to bed too early in Durban. My friend tells me that the trip in his boat, with eight people on board, takes about six hours each way. With a full load of 42 people — let’s ignore the goat for now — it could take two or three hours longer. I reckon we can pretty well guarantee the working classes will be going to bed late at night and getting up bright and early in the morning to face another working day!

Yours affectionately

Gavin Foster


  • Gavin Foster

    Durban photojournalist Gavin Foster writes mainly for magazines. His articles and photographs have appeared in hundreds of South African, American and British publications, and he's also instigated and researched stories for Carte Blanche. Winner of the Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa PICA Profile Writer of the Year Award in 2008. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2015/16/17. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Overall) 2015/16. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorsport Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2017 - Runner-Up 2015/16.