The DA accused Transnet CEO Portia Derby of corporate sabotage and said she must be fired, but the state-owned enterprise said her comments had been misrepresented.
On 17 August, Bloomberg reported that Derby raised concerns over the future of truck owners in the wake of lower commodity prices and as rail operations improve.
She warned that South Africa’s surge in trucking, that’s emerged due to higher coal prices and train bottlenecks, may lead to catastrophic job losses when factors ease.
Over 3,500 trucks per day carry mined products across the nation’s roads, more than double such traffic in 2020.
She said operators in the sector need to start earnest talks and establish a model that will include truckers long-term.
DA shadow minister of public enterprises, Ghaleb Cachalia, said Derby effectively admitted to corporate sabotage at Transnet and should be fired.
He argued that Derby essentially said her task was not to improve the rail network but to protect ‘mom and pop trucking outfits’ who are filling the gap that Transnet created.
“Derby has no business remaining in her role as Transnet CEO if she is deliberately stalling efforts to turn around the SOE to protect the trucking business,” Cachalia said.
He added that major exporters in South Africa have missed out on favourable commodity prices on the international market because of Transnet inefficiencies.
“This is obviously lost to Derby, as she appears to see nothing wrong with the extensive damage that Transnet freight is inflicting on the economy.”
Transnet hits back
Transnet hit back in a press statement, saying it was concerned about some coverage generated out of comments by Derby at the Bloomberg event.
“Derby’s comments, related to the huge growth in trucking in SA due to the poor performance of rail and the boom in global coal demand, have been taken out of context,” Transnet said.
It explained that the CEO said thought needs to be given to the trucking industry’s future as Transnet increases its ability to carry bulk commodities due to the improved availability of locomotives.
“The key opportunity for this sector lies in the last mile of the logistics chain in which Transnet does not participate,” Transnet said.
“This provides an opportunity for better alignment between Transnet and the truckers as rail’s performance improves.”
This is particularly important as many truckers are owner-drivers who would have used their pensions to get into new businesses.
Transnet has asked the relevant media platforms to correct their misrepresentation of the CEO’s comments.
The state-owned enterprise added that Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) has experienced three main binding constraints, which it is actively working on.
- Shortage of available locomotives, mainly because of the long-standing locomotives and the ongoing challenges with the CRRC locomotives.
- A backlog in infrastructure maintenance.
- The crippling effect of rampant cable theft and infrastructure vandalism.
“Significant progress is being made to improve Transnet’s capacity, and the inevitability of a growing return to rail cannot be ignored,” it said.