Port St Johns: From sleepy coastal town to ‘tourism jewel, economic hub’

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of Khawuleza District Coordination Model, Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of Khawuleza District Coordination Model, Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa says government is working on making the Eastern Cape’s coastal town of Port St Johns the “tourism jewel” of the country.

Ramaphosa was speaking at the launch of the district-based service delivery model in Lusikisiki near Port St Johns this week, and he announced big plans to develop the town on the Wild Coast, as well as the province’s OR Tambo district.

“Port St Johns is an area that we want to develop as a jewel of tourism in our country, and this district-based service delivery initiative will help us achieve that. In the main, we want to create jobs to fight poverty and end hunger in the province,” Ramaphosa said.

The president also announced that government would make R11.5 billion available for various projects in the OR Tambo district where the district-based service delivery model was being piloted. Port St Johns falls under the greater OR Tambo district and is seen as one of the places that can be developed into an economic hub to stimulate growth in rural areas.

Ramaphosa’s remarks followed bilateral talks between the government of China and the Eastern Cape on the possibility of developing a small harbour in Port St Johns.

The Chinese ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian, and Premier Oscar Mabuyane met last week in Mthatha’s Mayfair Hotel, where they shared notes and discussed a feasibility study into developing a harbour at Port St Johns.

Silaka Nature Reserve lies in a forested valley south of Port St Johns. Picture: wildcoast.co.za

After the meeting, Lin said he was impressed by the Eastern Cape government and the work it was doing.

“The main purpose of these engagements, which were productive, is to see the feasibility study for us to develop a small harbour. This province also has more than 800km of coastline and I think the potential for the ocean economy is there,” Lin said.

“So, on a country to country level, we are here to see the possibility of a small harbour to drive regional development to benefit from the sea. The second part we discussed with the premier is how we can encourage more investment from China to the Eastern Cape for industrialisation, for example, in Coega.”

Lin said they were also impressed by Mabuyane’s development plan for the province, including in the agricultural sector, which was something China was also very keen on.

“We want to be a key partner in the premier’s efforts to develop the area and transform this province from poverty to common prosperity.

“The Eastern Cape is our favourite province to work together between China and South Africa,” he said.

Lin added that the feasibility tour would help to gauge whether it was a good idea to build a sustainable harbour in Port St Johns to benefit from the ocean economy, with the next step being a visit to Port St Johns to see for themselves if building a harbour was possible.

The ambassador said he was not in a position to make a commitment until the feasibility study was complete, but said the vision was to have a thriving fishing and processing industry in Port St Johns to create jobs and ease the high level of poverty in the area.

He said more investors and tourists were ready to come to South Africa because they saw that the country had great potential.

“In my view, South Africa is one of the best nations for investment and for tourism. This country has three unique things no other country has on the continent: it has mineral, agricultural and human resources; it has a great location, which is very important – this is the only country embraced by two oceans; and the third is the foundation and conditions, which are so good.”

Mabuyane said they would welcome any move to develop the province, which is playing catch-up with the rest of the country.

“This move resonates well with our plan of focusing on the ocean economy in our province, on tourism and on the agroindustry.

The "Wild Coast" is the coastal area of the easterly "Transkei" region of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The "Transkei" stretches from Kei Mouth to Port Edward. Picture: portstjohns.org.za

“The country has not developed harbours since the 1960s – almost all harbours in the country were developed in the 1920s and 1930s. So it’s an opportunity to unlock the development potential of a province like the Eastern Cape,” Mabuyane said.

“We are quite happy about the sites that have been identified – Port St Johns, Qolora Mouth and Hamburg. It is going to create what we need. We are working on the Wild Coast special economic zone, which will focus on agroprocessing.

“We have got the Magwa tea estate in Pondoland, and we are also looking at the cannabis industry. These are products that will need to be exported. This is an opportunity for us to connect this part of the province with other developed parts of the province. There are concrete plans,” Mabuyane said.

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