The fight between embattled Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama and board chairman Popo Molefe is escalating, with Gama threatening to declare a dispute if he is suspended.
Gama, chief procurement officer Thamsanqa Jiyane and supply-chain manager Lindiwe Mdletshe were served by the Transnet board with notices of intention to suspend them on August 16. The trio were asked to provide reasons why they should not be suspended after investigations found that Gama, former CEO Brian Molefe and Gupta associates may have contravened the Public Finance Management Act, and were implicated in unlawful conduct in procuring 1,064 locomotives.
City Press reported on Sunday that Gama had earlier written to public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan to end the "current very public but unnecessary debacle at Transnet that [was] spearheaded by the infantile actions of the chairman of the board".
He said as "shareholder representative", the minister should deal with what he called "the destabilisation that is brought about largely by the chairman", referring to Molefe.
A subsequent letter to Molefe from Gama’s attorney, Nano Matlala, dated August 28, said there was no "legal or factual basis" for placing Gama on precautionary suspension. "Should, nothwithstanding the reason stated above, a decision be taken by a relevant authority, our client declares a dispute in terms of his contract of employment," the letter said.
Three investigations were conducted, by Werksmans Attorneys, Mncedisi Ndlovu & Sedumedi (MNS) Attorneys and th Treasury.
Werksmans was commissioned by the previous Transnet board in 2017 to investigate allegations of impropriety linked to the purchase of locomotives from General Electric, Bombardier Transport, China South Rail and China North Rail.
The MNS report mirrored the Werksmans investigation and the draft Treasury report into allegations at Transnet and Eskom, which implicated Gama.
The leaked Gupta e-mails also contain claims that Gupta-linked entities received multibillion-rand kickbacks as part of the R50bn locomotive deal.
Matlala said Gama had assisted investigators. In the August 28 letter, he said Gama was not involved in the negotiations for and adjudication of the locomotives tender.
Matlala said the matters relating to the award were reserved for the board of Transnet. Gama was not a member of the board then.
He said it was "unfortunate" that Gama had been asked to provide reasons why he should not be suspended, when it was apparent from Molefe’s "media statements and interviews" that he had already made up his mind to suspend Gama.
Public enterprises spokesperson Adrian Lackay said on Sunday the minister was on a state visit to China and would be in a better position to consider Gama’s request later this week.
Molefe said that Gama and others had been afforded the opportunity to answer to the allegations against them to the board.