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A Decline in Coal Exports Owing to Richards Bay: Confronting Logistics and Economic Dilemmas

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

A Decline in Coal Exports Owing to Richards Bay: Confronting Logistics and Economic Dilemmas
A Decline in Coal Exports Owing to Richards Bay: Confronting Logistics and Economic Dilemmas


The Port of Richards Bay, a pivotal conduit for South Africa's coal exports, has been grappling with substantial impediments, leading to a downturn in the export aspirations of one of the nation's major coal producers, Exxaro, in the initial half of 2023. This article delves into the myriad of factors that have contributed to the decline in coal exports and its reverberations on the industry.

Logistics Predicaments and Export Impact

The logistics issues plaguing Richards Bay Port have dealt a severe blow to Exxaro's expansion plans for coal exports. Regrettably, the port witnessed a 6% reduction in coal outflows, which had an adverse effect on the company's fiscal performance during this period.

Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) and Power Predicaments

Exxaro encountered challenges with Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), the principal rail transporter for coal, leading to disruptions in the supply chain. Moreover, power issues due to load shedding exacerbated the problem, creating hindrances to inefficient transportation and affecting overall operations.

Inflation and Diminished Coal Prices

Exxaro's financial performance suffered further due to inflationary pressures and a decline in coal prices. These economic challenges have added strain to the company's revenues, contributing to the overall slump in coal exports. Production Restraints and Foreign Exchange Loss

The inability to ramp up coal production had dire consequences for Exxaro. Lower output resulted in reduced foreign exchange earnings for the country's fiscus, impacting the nation's overall economic prospects.

Endeavors to Overcome Challenges

Despite grappling with significant obstacles, the coal sector and the Minerals Council SA have been assiduously working towards a TFR turnaround, with the aim of addressing the logistics constraints at Richards Bay. However, their efforts have not yet borne the desired fruits.

Exxaro's Interim Performance Update

As per Exxaro's finance director, Riaan Koppeschaar, the total coal production for the first six months of 2023, including buy-ins and metallurgical coal, is projected to decline by 3% to 20.7 million tons (Mt).

Decreased Sales and Exports

Reduced demand by Eskom and shipment constraints at Richards Bay have resulted in a 7% drop in sales, with only 19.5 million tons (Mt) sold during this period compared to the same time last year. The exports are also expected to decrease by 6%, reaching 2.5 million tons (Mt), primarily due to the lackluster performance of the rail line leading to the port's coal terminal.

Challenges with Transportation Economics

In addition to logistical hurdles, lower coal prices have made it economically less viable for producers to transport coal to the port by truck. This has further contributed to the decline in exports and has compounded the challenges faced by the industry.


The constraints faced by the Port of Richards Bay have significantly impacted South Africa's coal exports. Exxaro's inability to expand its exports, coupled with economic challenges such as inflation and lower coal prices, has resulted in a downturn in financial performance. Efforts to improve logistics and transportation are ongoing, but the situation remains complex. The industry continues to face uncertainties, affecting job creation and putting additional strain on the economy. Resolving the issues at Richards Bay is crucial for the revival of the coal sector and the overall growth of South Africa's economy.


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