The Sishen-Saldanha railway project in South Africa: Arguments for and against construction, 1970-1976
Keywords:Sishen-Saldanha railway project, Sishen-Saldanha Railway Construction Bill, South African Iron and Steel Corporation, Parliamentary debates, Saldanha Bay, St. Croix, Iron ore export, Apartheid South Africa
The Sishen-Saldanha railway project was an undertaking of gigantic proportions in South Africa’s history, which currently serves as the longest freight train trajectory for iron ore in the world. It became imperative to provide reliable and efficient access to the coast for export purposes in a country with vast mineral resources. After the discovery of iron ore deposits at Sishen in the north-western Cape Province, South Africa’s largest mining corporation, the South African Iron and Steel Corporation (ISCOR), took the leading initiative for the proposed planning of a railway line connecting Sishen to Saldanha Bay on the West Coast. As a result of pressing international sanctions, the apartheid government sought to forge ahead with infrastructural developments in order to stabilise economic growth. With the dwindling market exports becoming an ever-serious concern, ISCOR’s project was to be a bulwark for ensuring optimum exports and economic development. In political circles, an intense parliamentary debate ensued in 1973 revolving around the acceptance and promulgation of the Sishen-Saldanha Railway Construction Bill. It reflected the controversial discussions between the ruling National Party and the United Party as liberal opposition party on pivotal issues concerning the construction of the railway line. Simultaneously, an underlying contention existed as to the choice of location of an appropriate export port at Saldanha or St. Croix. The author seeks to assess the primary sources pertaining to the proposed Sishen-Saldanha railway during its formative years from 1970 to 1976.
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