Johannesburg - The shadow of Siyabonga Gama looms large over the race to lead Transnet in its R100bn spending spree over the next five years.
Two ANC leaders on the ruling party’s deployment committee said the last time Gama’s name was discussed was last year, when President Jacob Zuma “told us” to stop meddling in ministers’ portfolios.
One of the ANC leaders said: “That was the last time we discussed it, but Siyabonga Gama is still our candidate.”
The deployment committee is expected to meet early in 2011 to consider the names of the people who should be appointed to the post left vacant after Maria Ramos’s departure to Absa early last year. It will then recommend its candidate to government.
Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said he expected the Transnet board, which he appointed this week, to lead the process of appointing a chief executive. The board starts its duties on Monday.
Gama may get backing from some board members, since he is a member of the ANC’s high-powered Rivonia Heroes branch along with Transnet board members Israel Skosana and Ellen Tshabalala.
Last year the branch, chaired by Tshabalala, stood behind Gama when he, then Transnet’s Freight Rail chief executive, was accused of corruption and an internal disciplinary hearing found him guilty of a breach of governance requirements in relation to two procurement contracts.
Even the transport unions are not opposed to Gama’s return.
SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) president Ezrom Mabyana said the union, which is an affiliate of Cosatu, hoped that Transnet would find a competent person to lead the logistics company.
Satawu supported Gama during his fight with Transnet.
Mabyana said: “We believe some people might not support his candidacy. It is premature, though, to say what is likely to happen. At this point, I don’t think there is one candidate we can punt.”
But another union leader said Gama might not be a desirable candidate.
The source said: “He may not be supported by the market. Remember, his case was not nice.
“He was accused of corruption. Some people said he was corrupt; we defended him. If he is appointed, you may find that some people won’t take Transnet seriously. But we will wait and see.”
Lucky Montana, the chief executive of passenger rail utility Prasa, has emerged as labour’s other candidate, according to unionist.
Chris de Vos, the general secretary of the United Transport and Allied Trade Union (Utatu), said although his union would support Gama, he did not think he would be the right choice for Transnet.
“For us really, it is going to be difficult to make a judgement call. Gama left a not-so-good shadow. It is going to be very difficult.
“One should be concerned about the reputation of Transnet if he is appointed. I don’t think it will be a good choice,” said De Vos.
Both Satawu and Utatu, the two largest unions at Transnet, welcomed the appointment of Mafika Mkwanazi as chairperson of the board.
Mkwanazi worked with Gama while he was the chief executive of Transnet, and Montana when he was in the public enterprises ministry.
Another candidate who has support within the ANC is Geoff Qhena, the chief executive at the Industrial Development Corporation. He is a former Transnet executive and worked closely with Mkwanazi.
Brian Molefe, former chief executive of the Public Investment Corporation, has emerged as a dark horse.
While the appointment of the Transnet board has brought a level of stability, business has raised some concerns about the efficiency of the parastatal.
Crying need for insfrastructure upgrade
Executive director at Agri SA Hans van der Merwe said he would like to see Transnet playing a role in revitalising rural transport infrastructure, as it is not servicing many farmers any more. About 80% of farm cargo is moved by road.
Van der Merwe also said that Transnet should improve the way it is managing its labour relations, as this year’s transport workers’ strike had a devastating effect on farmers.
“Certain sub-sectors of our industry, particularly those that export perishable products, could have been virtually wiped out by the strike,” said Van der Merwe.
Sello Rasethaba, executive director of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, said the new board should ensure that South Africa was competitive and efficient across the logistics chain.
“Goods must move quicker in an effective manner. We hope the new board will improve operations at our ports so that they compete with the best in the world,” said Rasethaba.
Sizwe Nkosi, the chief financial officer of junior coalminer Sekoko Resources, said he hoped the new board would help Transnet speed up its turnaround time in upgrading the Waterberg railway line in Limpopo.
Sekoko is engaged in negotiations with Transnet to develop another railway line in the Waterberg.
It currently has a single railway line, which allows for only one train to travel to a mine and back before another train can use the line.
“The senior and middle level managers are good at providing favourable feedback and interaction,” said Nkosi.
“But Transnet as a group is very slow to implement extending the railway line,” he said.