Frozen chicken pieces (file photo).
  • Some 20,000 tons of frozen chicken is reportedly stuck on ships in and around Durban harbour, with more on the way.
  • Harbour operations are fast normalising, but food-safety testing protocols have been delayed due to transport issues – and because labs are not available.
  • Some towns in KwaZulu-Natal are struggling to access food, often because their major food stores have been destroyed or trucks are not reliably reaching them yet.
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Some small towns in KwaZulu-Natal, and people in parts of cities, are still struggling to access food as the dust settles after recent unrest and looting. By one survey, only some 4% of the province was food secure this week. Meanwhile, some 20,000 tons of frozen imported chicken can not leave ships and the Durban harbour, even with more large consignments on the way.

The port itself is rapidly normalising relations, with Transnet saying employees are at their posts, and clearing backlogs. But other problems caused by unrest and looting are now holding back distribution of the chicken consignments, Netwerk24 reported, including steps required under food-safety protocols.

Laboratory tests are required before the chicken may be distributed, but importers say they have been unable to get samples to laboratories for testing – or the laboratories are not available, either destroyed or not in normal operation themselves yet.

Looting also saw the destruction of 40,000 tons of cold storage capacity, according to meat processors.

Importers are now asking for a special relaxation of rules, which would include the ability to transport containers of frozen chicken to other parts of the country where cold storage is available before the batches have been cleared. But representatives for local chicken producers, which lobby against what they have described as dumping and poor quality imports, insist that food safety must take priority. 

The backlog in Durban is expected to build as more container ships, which set sail before the unrest broke out, continue to arrive.

The N3 between Durban and Gauteng, and the parallel rail corridor, are operating normally under increased security. Retailers and distributors have set up supply lines from every neighbouring province to redistribute what they say are more than adequate supplies of food – if the stores destroyed in many places can be reopened for last-mile distribution.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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