Garry Pita. Picture: SUPPLIED
Garry Pita. Picture: SUPPLIED

In what is seen as the start of efforts to reverse state-capture at Transnet, the company’s group chief financial officer, Garry Pita, resigned with immediate effect on Thursday, citing “deteriorating” health.

In his resignation letter, seen by Business Day, Pita also mentioned a call for “new leadership” at the state-owned company by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan at a board meeting on Tuesday as a reason for his departure.

Transnet spokesman Molatwane Likethe confirmed Pita’s resignation, saying that Mark Gregg-McDonald would take over as interim chief financial officer.

Pita read text messages sent to him on Thursday afternoon, but did not respond to requests for comment. Pita was implicated as allegedly involved in state capture by the Gupta family and their associates.

He was appointed acting group chief financial officer in August 2015 and confirmed to the position in February 2016. He had previously held the position of group chief supply chain officer and worked for Transnet for 12 years.

“I advised you last year [2017] of my intentions to resign from the company as my health was deteriorating under the significant strain and pressure that comes with the job and this has also had a very negative impact on my family,” Pita wrote in his letter, addressed to board chairwoman Linda Mabaso and group CEO Siyabonga Gama.

He said a decline in his health had led to his doctor advising him to change careers.

“Yesterday, as a board we met the new minister of DPE [Public Enterprises Minister Gordhan] who made it clear Transnet needs new leadership and needs to start a new path. With that in mind I hereby tender my resignation with immediate effect as I feel that physically I can no longer continue.”

Documents from whistle-blowers have revealed that Pita signed off on several invoices totalling R74m paid to Trillian, a boutique financial firm at the time owned by Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa.

He also signed off on a deal with global software giant SAP that resulted in Gupta company CAD House netting a R100m “sales commission”.

While Pita has maintained his innocence and denied wrongdoing, his role in deals that allegedly benefited the Gupta family is yet to be investigated by law-enforcement agencies.

Gama thanked Pita for his “valuable contribution and commitment towards the sustainable turnaround of Transnet”. Gordhan was appointed to public enterprises by President Cyril Ramaphosa in February after a brief stint as a backbencher as part of Ramaphosa’s first cabinet reshuffle after assuming office.

A new Eskom board was widely welcomed as a sign that Ramaphosa was intent on breaking with the past. Now, it seems, that a new board at Transnet is imminent.

Last week, Gordhan, who is on a drive to clean up state-owned enterprises, appointed a new board at Denel. This was also positively received. The acting public enterprises director-general, Makgola Makololo, said on Thursday that Pita’s resignation did not absolve him of accountability if he was found to have played a role in how Transnet became a “target for state capture”.

“The minister has welcomed the resignation,” said Makololo, who is standing in for the current director-general Richard Seleke, who is on leave.

A public enterprises spokesman could on Thursday night not clarify the nature of Seleke’s leave.

According to Mokololo: “Transnet has been faced by a series of allegations of deep corruption and malfeasance with highly suspicious and questionable financial transactions to the detriment of Transnet and its reputation.”

Makololo said the Transnet board had yet to provide an explanation of these transactions, including a R50bn locomotive tender from which the Gupta family allegedly earned as much as R5bn in kickbacks.

“It also needs to explain how it had exercised its fiduciary duties in the context of a plethora of information in the public domain showing how Transnet became a target for state capture,” she said.