A CHANGE in the fortune of East London’s beleaguered grain elevator is testament to the success of government and business pulling together for a common cause.

A previously unyielding Transnet – which had last year indicated that the elevator would close – has now committed R20 million to an upgrade of the 50-year-old elevator over the next nine months.

“We are committed to the Eastern Cape and the Port of East London,” Transnet Port Terminals chief executive Karl Socikwa said yesterday.

This attitude is in stark contrast to reports last year in the Dispatch where Transnet appeared to have turned a blind eye to pleas from businesses reliant on the elevator to survive, and had ignored recommendations over the years by Buffalo City Municipality’s port steering committee.

This week, a jubilant Paramount Mills managing director Bruce Spanjaard told how the perilous situation was salvaged.

“After the Dispatch reports (published in October and November) and after I sent out a letter of my own to anyone I thought could help, we received the most amazing support,” Spanjaard said.

In the event of the elevator being shut down, the city’s wheat industry would have died and about 2 000 industry-related jobs would have been lost.

“Based on the press exposure and help from all these people, it became blatantly obvious that it would be totally crazy to close the elevator down.”

Spanjaard said East London attorney Ian Russell facilitated a meeting between him and provincial Economic Affairs MEC Mcebisi Jonas.

Another attorney, Russell Linde, put Spanjaard in touch with Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council chief executive Andrew Murray, and Border-Kei Chamber of Business chief executive Les Holbrook also lobbied Transnet on Spanjaard’s behalf.

Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Athol Trollip spoke to former Minister of Public Enterprises Barbara Hogan on Spanjaard’s behalf, and DA MPL John Cupido also took up the issue in Bhisho with Jonas.

“I approached MEC Jonas in the corridors of Bhisho and all credit to him, he really ran with it,” Cupido said.

“We are very excited because this maintenance secures our futu Spanjaard said. “I was blown away by how the guys grasped the severity of the situation. Jonas was awesome as well, so approachable, and he came support.”

Jonas said yesterday his involvement was a direct response to the rumour of the imminent closure of the elevator. “This created panic and doubt in the business community and with investors. We decided to take it upon ourselves to directly engage with Transnet … which resulted in Transnet committing to spend resources to upgrade the grain elevator.”

He added: “We are pleased to say up with practical that our active involvement with the matter has resulted in a significant investment by a Stateowned enterprise.”

“It’s marvellous to see Transnet doing something about the grain elevator and investing in the port,” PSC member and BCM councillor John Badenhorst said yesterday.

Holbrook said this was a great example of what can happen when business and government stand together.

“In the Eastern Cape we don’t lobby enough and we don’t shout loudly enough on these issues,” he said.

“With the grain elevator, we believed we had a strong case and it was a collective effort by stakeholders that got Transnet to revise their original position on the matter.”

Murray added: “Over the past few years we have been seeing a provincial pattern with Transnet where they are difficult to engage … I think there has been a mindset change where politicians, including the MEC, have reached the end of the road with that. The way Transnet handled the apparent closure of the elevator – with no consultation – left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.

“If you want something to happen in this province you have to fight for it; business and government must speak with one voice. This grain elevator issue is a small victory.” — taralynb@dispatch.

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