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Durban, positioned on the eastern coast of South Africa, is the largest port in Africa and the third-largest shipping hub in the southern hemisphere. The port of Durban, previously called the port of Natal, is one of only a few natural harbors on the entire coast of Africa. Additionally, the city sits at a high enough latitude that its climate is subtropical, not tropical, allowing it to avoid much of the violent weather and monsoons that can make regional sea travel treacherous. These qualities made it a premier location for maritime trade and ship repairs after the port was opened in 1840.

Although South Africa’s relative isolation during its Apartheid regime discouraged international trade through Durban, the port remained a major export hub and economic lifeline of not just the country, but of the broader southern African region. Rail lines link Durban not simply to rest of South Africa, but also to its northern neighbors all the way to Congo, often making it the only choice for getting bulk goods out of the continent.

Durban’s challenge moving forward is twofold. Competing infrastructure in Angola has ended South Africa’s monopoly on outward-going trade corridors, while South Africa’s HIV epidemic has placed the long-term stability of South Africa’s infrastructure in question.

To learn more about the future of both South Africa (the country) and southern Africa (the region), read Chapter 10 of
The Accidental Superpower.