In 2017 trains hauled 81m tonnes of coal to export terminals. This year about 54m tonnes will go that way; lorries will carry only another 9m. The decline reflects a missed opportunity: international coal prices soared last year after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The gap between what coal miners could dig and what they could export last year represents a loss of at least $4.7bn, estimates Jan Havenga of Stellenbosch University. Other miners and manufacturers report similar deficits. The total hit to South African firms from lost exports and the extra costs of going by road will amount to about 400bn rand in 2022 (6% of gdp), says Mr Havenga. Over the past few years several other African countries, such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, have allowed “open access” to their rail networks. These countries sell slots on the tracks to private operators, which in turn bring fresh investment. Last year, the South African government published a white paper promising to implement the idea. Yet progress on passing a bill has moved about as slowly as a coal truck through Kwa-Zulu Natal.