Where fruit and vegetables compete

3,300 tonnes of freight are handled in Johannesburg each month – when the harvest is ripe

South Africa has been seen as a growth market since well before the 2010 World Cup. Although Pretoria is the capital of South Africa, Johannesburg is considered the commercial heart of the country, with 34 per cent of gross domestic product being generated in its environs. “Johannesburg is a strong import market for industrial goods and pharmaceutical products,“ explained Rüdiger Munzert, General Manager for South Africa, Angola and Senegal. The market is actually divided into two thirds imports and one third exports. “Our freighter comes five times a week from Frankfurt to Johannesburg via Nairobi. The demand for freight to Johannesburg is so great that capacities are generally not offered from Frankfurt to Nairobi.”

There is a different distribution on the return leg. Up to 20 tonnes are transported from JNB and some 65 tonnes are loaded in NBO. However, there are strong seasonal fluctuations. What is known as the “silly season” runs from mid-November to mid-December. This is when competition between South Africa and South America to see who can be the first to get their fruit and vegetables to the supermarkets in the northern hemisphere starts. Lychees and grapes in particular are exported from South Africa at this time. “Our sales managers need to apply their intuition to this product,” emphasised Munzert. “The harvest is highly weather-dependent. An entire freighter might be reserved but if the fruit isn’t yet ripe then the entire booking has to be delayed by a week. Therefore, flexibility is very important to us.”

The automotive industry is another important Export market all year round. The 3-Series BMW and Mercedes C-Class are manufactured in South Africa, for example, and exported from there all over the world. Many suppliers send parts such as leather upholstery and catalytic converters to assembly belts in Germany also. However, the station has its own special export hit – platinum nitrate. “There are few providers in this country that can transport this valuable but hazardous good correctly,” explained Munzert. An in-house process combining the handling of hazardous goods and valuable cargo has been developed in consultation with Frankfurt for this. “This has made us experts in the transport of this good,” said Munzert proudly of his team. And the expertise acquired has paid off. “The transport charge is correspondingly high.

The regular 755-kg container is a lucrative business as South Africa is one of the heaviest producers of platinum in the world,” said Munzert.

A glance at the cargo warehouse underlines the Lufthansa Cargo expertise. It is one of the most modern and secure warehouses in the area. “We like to call it the ‘compact Lufthansa Cargo Center’,” explained Sebastian Schmitt, Commercial Assistant. And it does boast the right storage place for each type of freight in this 5,040 square metre space. Cooperation is also set up accordingly. “We are all one team. This means that boundaries are sometimes crossed and we have to do tasks outside of our own area,” said Schmitt.

A high commitment to service, enjoyment in the work and good quality are what characterise the station with its 70 employees in Johannesburg. “But we can’t overlook what’s going on in the background. The level of training in the country is low in comparison with Germany, as well as the salaries,” emphasised Rüdiger Munzert. “It’s not always easy to implement German standards as a result.” But the team successfully deals with these issues, e.g. through the “Tswelopele JNB” Lean project. Amongst other things, this led to the shooting of three videos on the advancement of Lean Logistics in JNB. “The videos on how we can achieve a structured and clean cargo warehouse made us that bit better known at Lufthansa Cargo,” explained Munzert proudly. “One was even shown at the Global Handling Conference. Lean has really brought a lot to our station and sustainably improved our handling.”

But why are all the skylights in the cargo warehouse painted black? “That’s down to another business. Automakers test their prototypes or disguised new models in South Africa each year and neither the future customer nor prying press photographers in particular should be able to get a look at them at this stage. They are then regularly flown back to Germany with Lufthansa Cargo. So to prevent journalists being able to get snaps of the models, the entire warehouse has had
to be ‘blacked out’,” says Munzert. “When we do something, we do it right.”