Four more Transnet executives have been suspended as the South African transport parastatal continues to complete multiple corruption investigations; violent Durban truck blockades hamper operations
One of the four, Ravi Nair, CEO at Transnet Freight Rail, has opted to resign. The other three are the CEO of Transnet National Ports Authority, Shulami Qalingewho, who had occupied her post for less than two years; Transnet Group human resources officer Nonkululeko Sishi; and Transnet Group COO Mlamuli Buthelezi.
Transnet said that the suspensions would help it to complete investigations into alleged wrongdoings and were part of its efforts to improve corporate governance and restore public and investor confidence in the company. In a statement, the firm said: “Transnet is a business in transition. Our primary aim is to restore confidence and deliver on our mandate.”
Transnet has revealed that it will enter into talks with the four companies that signed contracts to supply 1,064 diesel and electric locomotives in 2015. The contracts, which are valued at a total of R49B (US$3.5B), were later found by the company to be “irregular and unlawful”. The transport firm is now keen to reach a negotiated settlement with those suppliers but it remains to be seen whether this will involve cancelling the remaining parts of those contracts. It is possible that it will seek to reduce the sums it must pay by the amount that was revealed to have been allocated to intermediaries.
Bombardier and China South Rail secured separate contracts to supply 599 electric locomotives between them, while GE and China North Rail were awarded contracts to supply 465 diesel locomotives. Transnet has already made payments of R30B (US$2.14B) and has received 525 locomotives to date.
Transnet faces other difficulties. Blockades in and around Durban in late March affected the transport of goods to and from the Port of Durban. The protestors who organised the road blocks forced drivers to prove that they were South African. Any foreign drivers were forced out of their trucks and the vehicles disabled.
Traffic around the city and on the main highways, including the N3 from Durban to Johannesburg, was severely affected. It was reported that stolen trucks were used to block roads, including around the port, such as South Coast road and Bayhead intersection. A foreign driver, believed to be from Zimbabwe, was stabbed by protestors.
The protests triggered a more general wave of xenophobic attacks on foreigners in the area, with accusations that they were “stealing” South African jobs. At least one person was murdered. South Africa has experienced anaemic economic growth and very high unemployment for many years, fuelling xenophobic attacks on people from other parts of Africa.
The protesting organisations argue that foreign drivers are operating illegally within South Africa and undercut local drivers. Given that Durban is the most important container port in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, many hundreds of truck drivers carry freight to and from the port every month.
Transport Minister Blade Nzimande said: “It is disingenuous for some truck drivers to block the road or engage in any protest whilst there are current engagements between government and the foundations [organisations]. The Department of Transport took the initiative to get the relevant stakeholders to resolve the matter as a labour dispute because this had unfairly impacted on the flow of transport on our highways.”
He said that he had met with representatives of the protesting organisations and added that officials from several government bodies were continuing to hold talks with them.