Africa is the fastest growing region in the world, yet there is very little trade within her borders. Just 12% of African trade is within the continent, according to research by Ecobank. By contrast, trade among countries in the European Union is 60%, and 40% in North America.
Newly appointed Durban port manager and EMBA graduate, Moshe Motlohi, wants to change this.
“If we can extend partnerships with other African ports that will improve cargo movement between South Africa and the rest of the continent and Africans will benefit more,” he says
Motlohi is responsible for overseeing the Durban Port, one of Africa’s largest, that last year handled about 87.8 million tonnes of cargo, and he sees even greater potential for its future.
“As the port grows and new opportunities emerge we must open up opportunities to those who were previously excluded from meaningful port or and maritime economic activities,” he says.
Strong inter-African trade contributes to a range of benefits such as income and employment, and greater market integration. Products and services that can be made on the continent could be locally sourced, produced and used. However, poor infrastructure ranging from roads and rail network to erratic power supply impede Africa’s ability to harness these advantages.
By raising awareness about the value of ports, repositioning resources and improving connectivity, Motlohi wants to position South Africa as an example for how the continent can turn this around. And the first step towards that goal will begin at home.
“One must begin by building a mutually beneficial relationship between the port and the city,” says Motlohi. “We have to think about the communities that are hosting the port. Whether that means improving the environmental reputation of the port, or working with state agencies to strengthen security and look at health issues, there are a number of stakeholders whose positions must be considered.
Acknowledging the needs of stakeholders is something that Motlohi has excelled at since the early days of his career. As distribution manager for South African Breweries in Umtata in the Eastern Cape, he faced challenges such as poor resources and road infrastructure that were compounded by the attitude of the community.
“Bad road conditions made it difficult to deliver the product to customers on time and in good condition, and that caused the customers to be dissatisfied. Because of this, customers would place orders at random and this further complicated the situation,” he explains.
To instil more discipline in operations, Motlohi realised he needed the support of those he worked with. So, he created a service level agreement between himself and his customers. “The basis of the agreements was that each customer would be given a customised service package. In return they had to place orders within agreed lead times and the depot had to deliver within agreed time frames,” he says. After six months, Motlohi’s approach proved a success and earned him the first-ever Silver Award in the field of operations. “I had managed to change the mindset of a community considered outliers, and brought in solutions where they could operate in the same space as the mainstream,” he says.
This approach was further validated when Motlohi joined the UCT GSB Executive MBA programme in 2008. “The GSB put everything into context, and endorsed how I worked in these situations,” he says.
For example, he describes the idea of ‘using your heart to think’. A concept that integrates practical and empathetic thinking in problem solving, it is notion of awareness that encourages leaders to look at the bigger picture.
“Systems thinking really has helped me realise that I need to view things holistically. Trying to break systems apart leads to an inadequate diagnosis of issues. I have also learnt that it is useful to be open to multiple perspectives and be aware of not to jumping to conclusions,” says Motlohi.
In the fast-paced business world, such an approach is uncommon. “We don’t give ourselves time to step back, pause and understand how things work as a whole before dealing with the sub-parts,” says Motlohi. “And that results in the wrong solutions that don’t actually affect the variable you want to change.”
As he settles into port management and the challenges and rewards ahead of him, he is very clear about the variable he wants to change.
“This is an opportunity for me to have an impact on South Africa and its neighbouring countries,” he says. “This is where the world, quite literally, converges.”