South Africa’s modern and extensive transport system plays a very important role in the national economy and also in the economies of several African states.  A number of countries in southern Africa use the South African transport infrastructure to move their imports and exports.

Transport Policy

Transport in South Africa is coordinated by the Department of Transport which determines policy and sets guidelines for the industry.

In September 1996, Parliament accepted the White Paper on National Transport Policy.  The document recommends that national transportation infrastructure networks should be established in conjunction with provincial and local governments as well as other southern African countries. The primary roads network should be defined and certain ports and airports elevated to hub status in keeping with international trends.

According to the White Paper, ownership and regulation of transport infrastructure, whether state-owned or privatised, would also be separated.   In May 1997, the Minister of Transport, Mr Mac Maharaj, announced that from April 1998, the central Government would be responsible for policy, regulatory and financial control while four separate agencies would be set up to deal with specific sets of customers, and earn funds through user charges.  The agencies would deal with the construction and management of roads; the issue of cross-border permits for goods and passengers, and maritime and aviation safety.

In October 1997, the Minister of Transport launched the planning project, Moving South Africa, aimed at determining the country’s land, sea and air transport needs over the next 20 years.  The project focuses on the structure, infrastructure and functioning of the South African transport system and categorises problems which may be solved in the short, medium and long term.  The R18 million study was expected to be completed by August 1998.

Privatisation and Restructuring

In June 1997, the short list of bidders for Sun Air was announced by the Ministers of Transport and Public Enterprises. The four bidders were Malaysian Airlines Consortium, Phoenix Venture Partners Consortium, Rethabile/Comair Consortium and Atlantic Bhekilanga Consortium.  Later, Virgin Atlantic and Malaysian Air withdrew their bids.  In September, it was announced that the Rethabile/Comair Consortium had won the bid to purchase Sun Air in a R50 million deal.  Rethabile and Coordinated Investment will hold a 55 percent controlling share and Comair 25 per cent.   The remaining stake will be held by employees and the National Empowerment Fund (NEF).

In 1998, a 49 per cent stake in the Airports company of South Africa (ACSA) was put up for sale.  The Government expected 20 per cent to be sold to a foreign strategic partner.  Ten per cent of shares will be placed with empowerment investors, nine per cent will be offered to management and employees and a 10 per cent stake will be transferred to the NEF.  In March 1998, the Minister of Transport announced that Aeroporti di Roma was the successful bidder.

South African Airways (SAA) has been earmarked as a candidate for partial privatisation.  This process allows for an introduction of a strategic investor who will bring into the business among other things, management expertise and capital for growth of the airlines.  Coupled with that is a focused human resources development programme.

SAA is in the process of being converted into a legal person of its own before any restructuring can take place.  It is envisaged that the Government will sell a stake of between 20 to 25 per cent to strategic investor.   Other potential stakeholders are the NEF, Blacks investors and labour.

The business unit of Autonet has been earmarked for full privatisation.  Discussions are taking place within the National Framework Agreement – the consultative forum between labour and the Government on the restructuring of state assets – on how this process should proceed. 

Transnet Ltd

The public company Transnet Limited was founded on 1 April 1990.  Transnet is the country’s main transport operator, handling 175 million t of freight a year.  Annually, 2.4 million passengers are transported by road, and 20 per cent of the nation’s commuters are carried by Metrorail.  Transnet flies five million domestic, international and regional passengers per year.

Transnet consists of seven transport businesses – Spoornet (air transport), Portnet (harbours), Autonet (road transport), Petronet (liquid petroleum transport), SAA (air transport) PX (container shipments) and Metrorail (commuter rail services), and a number of related and support businesses.

The company’s functions, its total employee complement of 111,000 (February 1998) and its capital assets (R40 billion) make it one of the country’s largest business undertakings.  As a purchaser of various goods, and as one of the major employers in the country, Transnet makes an important contribution to the national economy.

Road Transport

National Roads

According to the South African National Road Agency Limited and National roads Act, 1998 (Act 7 of 1998), the Government will continue to make overall policy while road-building and maintenance will be the responsibility of the South African National Roads Agency (Sanra).  Sanra has replaced the South African Roads Board.

The Act separates the policy and regulation functions of the Government from the operation, management and execution activities be through sources such as share capital or a loan account, as well as tolls payable in terms of the legislation, the petrol levy and interest. The Agency started operating on 1 April 1998. The board, comprising eight members, was drawn from the private sector except for the Department of Finance representative.  The Agency will initially only manage the construction and maintenance of South Africa’s 7,000 km. national road network, but it is expected that this will be extended to 20,000 km. of primary roads in the future.

The national road system connects all the major centres in the country to one another as well as to neighbouring countries.

These roads include some 1,440 km. of dual-carriage freeway, 292 km.of single-carriage freeway and 4,401 km. of single-carriage main road with unlimited access.

In August 1997, President Nelson Mandela turned the sod of the first phase of the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative. The R180 million highway will link Maputaland in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal and the Mozambican capital Maputo. The first stage will entail the construction of 156 km. and will be completed by mid-1999.

The Department of Transport has embarked on 20 major road projects (including toll-roads), worth more than R5 billion over two years – many of which have brought substantial benefits to local communities.

Provincial Roads

The planning, construction and maintenance of roads and bridges, other than those falling under Sanra or local authorities, is the responsibility of the provincial governments.

Municipal Roads

Construction and maintenance of most roads and streets falling within the municipal boundaries of cities and towns is the responsibility of the local authority concerned.


The viability of every toll-road is determined over a 30-year period in order to assess the private-sector funding which can be sustained and served.   The performance of all toll-roads is within the forecast, and in many cases roads perform better than forecast.

The national road network covers 7,000 km. of road, some 1,000 km of which are toll-roads. These toll-roads are serviced by 21 toll-plazas.

It is envisaged that all major new toll-road projects will be financed through the commonly known Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) mechanism.   This allows greater private sector involvement in the financing, building, operating and maintenance of toll-projects. When the concession period expires, the facility is transferred back to the State at no cost.

In March 1997. the first major toll-road contract to be financed by the private sector, the R650 million highway between Warmbaths and Pietersburg, was opened.

A section of the N1 through the Du Toitkloof Pass in the Western Cape (some 13 km.) was completed in 1997.

Construction on the N4 Maputo-Witbank toll-road has begun and will include 70 km. of new road, 112 km. of rehabilitation and 240 km. of widening the road.  The new road, to be completed in 3 years, will be one of the few privately-financed cross-border roll-roads in the world.  The first toll will be charged in November 1998.  Ownership of the BOT road, which has a concession of 30 years, will revert to the South African and Mozambican Governments after the concession agreement expires.

In 1997, the Department of Transport sanctioned the construction of two major road network over the following two years with the private and public sectors combining forces to provide the necessary funds.  The first project was announced in July, entailing the design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the N3 national route as a toll-road between Heidelberg, Gauteng and Cedara in KwaZulu-Natal, at an estimated cost of R1.2 billion.

The second development is the Rustenburg of Platinum Toll-Road project which will eventually link the Maputo Harbour in Mozambique with Walvis Bay in Namibia.  South Africa’s contribution will involve constructing the road from Pretoria to Rustenburg in North-West and Lobatse in Botswana.  Construct is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 1999.  The project will create jobs for 2,500 people.  The Platinum Toll-road is the third BOT project launched by the Department.

Road Expenditure

The Government allocated R3.279 million during the 1996/97 financial year, although the Department of Transport estimates that South Africa will need R170 billion for road infrastructure over the next 10 years. However, only R70 billion will be available through annual budgets. The remaining amount will have to be generated using public or private-sector partnerships and by mobilising private-sector funds. In 1997, the Minister of Transport invited the private sector to submit development proposals.

Cross-border Transport

The Heads of State of the SADC countries signed the Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology on 24 August 1996.

The Protocol provides a comprehensive framework for regional integration across the entire spectrum of the transport, communications and meteorology sectors.  The overarching general objective of the Protocol is to promote the provision of the efficient cost-effective and fully-integrated transport, communication and meteorology infrastructure and operations.

The Protocol also specifically addresses road transport and aims at facilitating the unimpeded flow of goods and passengers between and across the territories of SADC member states and to promote the adoption of a harmonised policy which lays down the general operational conditions for carriers.

With a view to kickstarting the process of implementing the SADC Protocol, a workshop was held in South Africa in January 1997. Attended by representatives from Government, business and labour, the workshop resulted in the adoption of an implementation programme outlining prioritised outputs for regional implementation in 1997/98.

Cross-border transport within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is undertaken in terms of the SACU Memorandum of Understanding.  The Memorandum facilitates transport between SACU countries through, amongst others, the use of the single permit system.  The Memorandum provides the framework for cooperation between the signatory countries which has resulted in the establishment of various technical working froups such as traffic standards, road-user charge and passenger transport working groups. The activities of the passenger transport working group led to the establishment of Joint Route Management Committees (JRMCs) for certain cross-border passenger routes withing SACU. The JRMC comprise representatives from the public and private sector of the countries concerned and are aimed at jointly managing the routes in consultation with all stakeholders.

Road Traffic Signs

A revised road traffic-sign system which closely conforms with international standards has been phased in South Africa since November 1993. Signs under the previous system may be displayed until 31 December 2000.

The revised system includes changing the colours of some of the regulatory and all of the warning signs, changes in design parameters, the modernisation of text and symbols, and the additio of new signs, signals and markings.   Many of the new signs make useof smbols rather than text to make them multilingual and to reduce observation time. The unique and comprehensive temporary yellow sign system, primarily intended to indicate roadworks, and the uniquely shaped brown signs developed to meet the needs of tourists, are examples of progress made to date.

South Africa is currently busy with the preparatio of a road-signs manual for the Southern African Development Community in terms of the Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology.  This required further refinements of the 1993 sign system.

Public Transport

The Constitution allocates legislative ad executive powers in respect of public transport to the provinces.

Urban Transport

Urban areas which have been declared metropolitan transport areas are governed by metropolitan transport advisory boards. Both shor and long-term programmes for adequate transportation development are drawn up by the core city of each area and are revised and adjusted annually.  Nine such core areas already exist, namely Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Port Elizabeth, the East Rand, Bloemfontein and East London.

The planning of transport for metropolitan and major urban areas must be in accordance with an urban or metropolitan growth management plan, and travel modes should not compete.

In urban areas, passenger road transport services are provided by local authorities and private bus companies, which operate scheduled bus services between peripheral areas and city centres, and by minibus-taxis. The taxis have achieved phenomenal growth during thelast few years, leading to a decrease in the market share of the bus  and train as modes of transport.

In March 1997, the MInister of Transport announced that the Government would no longer subsidise public transport, but would enable operators to tender for contracts to operate the services according to specifications.  At the signing of the first two contracts with Putco and Great North Transport, it was announced that the tender contract system would be introduced country-wide over the next three years. The Government will monitor the quantity, quality and price of the service offered by each bus company.  In terms of the scheme set out in the White Paper on National Transport Policy, transport costs will be kept belowe 10 per cent of disposable income.

Cross-Border Transport

Goods Transport

Road Traffic Safety

Road Traffic Control

Accident Insurance


The South African Rail Commuter Corporation

The South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) is a state corporation, established in 1990 to provide commuter rail services to the people of South Africa.  It falls directly under the Department of Transport, but has its own autonomous board of control.

Commuter rail services are provided by Metrorail in six urban centres: Johannesburg and the Reef, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London.

Internationally, most commuter rail services aim to provide an accessible and affordable service for the public and cannot recover the full cost of the service from the commuter.  In South Africa, a state subsidy covers almost 70 per cent of Metrorail’s operating costs since the Corporation’s core responsibility is to provide a social service for economically disadvantaged commuters.

During 1996, the White Paper on National Transport Policy was approved by the Cabinet which will lead to far-reaching changes in the way commuter rail-services are to be structured in future,  According to the White Paper, public and private operators will be able to bid competitively for the right to operate a rail line, a service or a network connection.

The has meant a change in the mission of the SARCC from one that focused only on ensuring the provision of commuter rail services, to one that ensures the “provision of effective and efficient rail commuter services under concessioning agreements”.  The first concessionaire is Metrorail which is now operating commuter rail services in the six urban centres under a concession granted by the Corporation as the Government’s concessionaire, with the exception of a pilot private-sector demonstration project, will prevail until the end of 2001.  Tenders of all Metrorail routes will then be opened to private and public-sector operators.

Civil Aviation

Civil aviation is controlled by the Ministry of Transport. Airport and air traffic and navigational services were commercialised in 1993. The ACSA controls the major airports.

South African Civil Aviation Safety Authority [SACAA]

CEO-designate: Mr Trevor Abrahams

Address (From 1 October 1998)

281 Middel Street
New Muckleneuk
Tel: c/o National Department of Transport on (012) 309-3564

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) will be established on 1 October 1998, following the recent successful passage of the South African Civil Aviation Authority Bill through Parliament in August. The Act provides for the establishment of a stand-alone authority charged with promoting civil aviation, regulating the industry and enforcing safety standards.

Safety related functions of the Chief Directorate:Civil Aviation Authority of the National Department of Transport will be transferred to the SACAA on 1 October, along with staff currently performing these functions.

Why establish the SACAA?

The creation of the SACAA reflects the Government’s new priorities of policy development, economic restructuring, addressing social inequalities and reducing the burden on the general taxpayer by providing services on the “user-pays” principle.

The establishment of the SACAA is consistent with international trends in regulating civil aviation and mirrors steps already taken with the establishment of the South African Maritime Safety Authority, South African National Roads Agency and the Cross-Border Transport Authority in April 1998.

Funding and Cost-recovery

The SACAA will be funded by a combination of user charges, a levy (fuel or passenger) on all industry participants and Government funding for services which the SACAA performs on its behalf. This will create a more efficient and cost-effective regulatory regime and a safer civil aviation environment.

The user-pays system will result in an increase to almost all existing charges. The new charges are based on the recovery of the costs to the Agency of providing the relevant services. Details were published in the Government Gazette on 21 August for public comment until 11 September. Further refinement of the levy charges is under way and further consultation will take place before implementation.

How will the SACAA function?

The Authority will be governed by a Board of Directors appointed by the Minister of Transport. The Board will be representative of industry, management and business expertise and will be required to report to the Minister regularly. Its performance with regard to fulfilling its obligations and carrying out its functions will be carefully monitored.

Chief Executive

Mr Trevor Abrahams was appointed Chief Executive designate of the SACAA in February. Mr Abrahams has looked carefully at how the regulation of civil aviation is managed internationally and at the specific requirements for civil aviation in South Africa. He has developed an organisational structure focussed on safety oversight and based on the principle of partnership between industry and the Authority to ensure aviation safety and financial sustainability.


International airports are those airports where the necessary facilities and services exist to accommodate international flights.  They vary from small airports used for over-boarder flights to and from neighbouring countries, to larger airports for flights to and from other African countries, to large airports for intercontinental flights.  At present, there are over 30 such designated international airports in South Africa but the intention is to reduce this number to eight in order to better control imports and exports, and criminal activities such as smuggling of drugs.  Gateway airports are those designated airports with scheduled   international flights.  At present, there are only three such airports designated by the Department of Transport, namely at Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.

The Airports Company owns and has responsibility for the planning, construction, and operation of

Johannesburg International
Cape Town International
Durban International
Kimberly Airport
Port Elizabeth Airport
Bloemfontein Airport
George Airport
East London Airport
Upington Airport

About 15 million passengers use these airports each year.   The assets and operations of the nine previously state-operated airports were transferred to the Airports Company in 1993.  The Air Traffic and Navigational Services (ATNS) is the company responsible for air traffic control.

In terms of safety, routine daily runway inspections are carried out at all ACSA’s airports.

In February 1997, the United States Trade and Development Agency announced that it would make more than 340,000  US dollars available to the Airports Company for a feasibility study into improving transport at Johannesburg International Airport.

In April 1997, the first phase of a R230 million terminal upgrade programme was completed at Johannesburg International.  Thirty two new check-in desks, incorporating a new concept in baggage transportation, were put into operation.  The desks feature common user terminal equipment, enabling the optimum utilisation of the desks through flexible allocation to airlines.  When the international terminal upgrade programme reaches completion in the second half of 1998, 104 of these check-in desks will be in operation.

In May 197, the Airports Company announced that major capital developments totaling R1.2 billion would be undertaken at Johannesburg Cape Town and Durban airports over the next five years.  Half this sum would be spent on Johannesburg International Airport which will have to cope with 40 million passengers by the year 2030.

The Green Paper on National Policy on Airports and Airspace Management was released in June 1997.  The Green Paper proposes that all of South Africa’s estimated 600 unlicensed airports and heliports be required to obtain a licence to ensure a minimum set of safety standards.  The Paper stresses that the issuing of an airport licence should remain an aviation safety regulatory instrument and should not be used for other purposes.  The documents suggests that strategies to promote private-sector involvement should be encouraged and, where on the borderline of viability, methods of stimulating private-sector participation should be examined.

In December 1997, there were 185 licences aerodromes, of which 22 were public and 63 private, and 52 approved helistops.  Some 6,625 civil aircraft were registered by the end of December 1997.

Major Airlines

SAA,  Comair, Sun Air, SA Express and Metavia Airlines operated scheduled international services within Africa and to Europe, Latin America and the Middle and Far East.

The Alliance Airline was founded in December 1994 as a joint venture between SAA and the Governments and national carriers of Tanzania and Uganda. Thirteen independent operators provide international flights which link up with SAAs, Comair’s and SA Express”s internal network.

In 1997, SAA’s fleet comprised two B-747-312s, seven B-747-244Bs

Commercial Shipping
Search and Rescue Services

Search and Rescue Services

The Chief Directorate: Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of the Department of Transport is responsible for coordinating the country’s search and rescue organisation and for providing secretariat services.  This will change in October 1998 when the CAA will become an agency outside of the Public Service. The coordinating roe will then be handled by the restructured Department of Transport.

The South African Search and Rescue Organisation (Sasar) comprises the executive committee, chaired by the heads of the South African Search and Rescue Services, and two subcommittees – the Maritime Subcommittee and the Aeronautical Subcommittee.

Sasar’s main function is to search for, assist and, if necessary, rescue survivors of aircraft accidents or forced landings, vessels in distress and survivors of accidents at sea.  It is also charged with coordinating the various government departments, voluntary organisations, private aircraft and shipping companies in the field of search and rescue, and with formulating policy and procedures.

Sasar’s area of responsibility corresponds with that laid down by both the International Civil Aviation Organisation and International Maritime Organisations.

The Department of Transport, SANDF, Telkom, Portnet, SAA,. SAPS, Department of Posts, Telecommunications and Broadcasting, Safair Freighters (Pty) Ltd and the National Sea Rescue Institute are members of the Sasar, and contribute services and/or facilities for use by Sasar.

Contact Numbers:

Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA)
Tel: (11) 453-9116
Fax: (11) 453-9354

South African Airways
Tel: (11) 978-1111
Fax: (11) 978-1106

Department of Transport
Tel: (12) 309-3000
Fax: (12) 324-3486

National Taxi Task Team
Tel: (12) 309-3175
Fax: (12) 328-6530

Tel: (11) 242-4026
Fax: (11) 242-4054

Road Accident Fund
Tel: (12) 323-9203
Fax: (12) 323-7345

South African National Roads Agency (SANRA)
Tel: (12) 342-1301
Fax:(12) 342-1320

South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC)
Tel: (11) 804-2900
Fax: (11) 804-3853

Tel: (11) 773-4086
Fax: (11) 773-4142

Tel: (11) 488-7055
Fax:(11) 488-7125