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Ministers and management of Transnet allowed collapse of ports and rail – Road Freight Association

Koena Mashale Journalist
The Road Freight Association says the private sector needs to be given more control over failing state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
The Road Freight Association says the private sector needs to be given more control over failing state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
Image: Waldo Swiegers

The Road Freight Association (RFA) says the private sector needs to be given more control over failing state-owned enterprises (SOEs). This follows the backlog taking place at SA's ports due to a long history of deterioration of ports and rail in the country.

RFA executive officer Gavin Kelly said short-term plans, being put into place to ramp up operations, will not relieve the pressure on the entities.

“Why wasn’t that done many years ago? A long road lies ahead of South Africa in terms of bringing ports and rail infrastructure back to a position of efficiency. We need the private sector to drive and control the nursing back to life of our vital supply chain infrastructure and nodal points,” said Kelly.

Kelly emphasised that the management of Transnet, and its subsidiaries, was fully aware of the problems.

“The RFA is steadfast in its opinion that the deterioration of our ports and rail has been a slow, continued process over at least 10 years, and Transnet has been continuously informed of these, by both structures within their respective organisations and the private sector,” Kelly said.

He said nothing was done despite the warnings.

“Nothing was done to counter this – neither to reverse, nor hold the decline. The executives, management and ministers who have led public enterprises and the various subsidiaries of Transnet are the ones to blame,” said Kelly.

The RFA is involved in the national logistics crisis committee (NLCC), which says it seeks to reverse the decay, corruption, and collapse.

“This will be a lengthy process and there is very little trust or faith left in those who allowed the collapse under their watch, to now suddenly become the 'saviours'. Plans and projects are emanating from the NLCC – but the knowing concern that these are [as in so many other instances], just talk, remains in the minds of many,” said Kelly.

The department of public enterprises has refuted Gavin Kelly’s claims that government has done nothing to stabilise the ports and rail operations.

A statement released by the ministry said Kelly did not provide an honest and fair assessment of the progress that was made.

“The establishment of the National Logistics Crisis Committee (NLCC), which Kelly downplayed, is providing critical support to efforts to resolve the freight logistics crisis and place Transnet on a firmer footing. This partnership involves critical input from business and other key stakeholders, including the mining industry,” said the department. 

The department said the NLCC, supported by the government and business, addresses the logistics crisis, focusing on safeguarding national interests.  

“Collaborative interventions include increased security for the coal line infrastructure, Transnet’s procurement reform, agreements with the coal mining industry, engagement with the University of Pretoria for equipment maintenance and workshops [action labs] facilitating business-Transnet collaboration to enhance the performance of coal and iron ore lines and the Durban Container Terminal's Pier 2.” 

Additionally, the department announced a new Transnet board in July, which in no time came up with a comprehensive Transnet Recovery Plan, said the department. 

The department revealed the government had unveiled the Freight Logistics Roadmap, which supported the reforms necessary to open access to third-party rail operators on the Transnet rail network starting next April. 

“The Transnet board is seized with the opportunity to ensure Transnet is firing on all cylinders, hence the support that was announced last Friday by the National Treasury and the department for Transnet to resolve some of its most pressing debt refinancing hurdles,” said the department. 

The department added that in September, minister Pravin Gordhan issued a clear injunction to the board to demand accountability. 

“This is also to ensure that Transnet is led by capable, experienced, and strategic leadership. All these factors dispel the false notion by Mr Kelly that nothing has been done, or that ministers and management of Transnet allowed collapse of ports and rail,” said the department. 

Editor's note : The original article has been updated with an additional comment from the department of public enterprise.

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