Leading state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been much in the news, mostly for deplorable finances and dubious procurement decisions. Less discussed has been how they responded to the commodity boom by seeking to capture a share of mining rents rather than investing to diversify the country’s economy and promote new opportunities. From that standpoint, their malaise reflects a broader challenge for SA, which is to find a new path to growth after the historic run-up in metals and coal prices that ended in 2012. Consider Transnet. It has long built dedicated lines for Kumba to export iron ore from the Northern Cape and to transport coal exports from Mpumalanga. Meanwhile, farmers and manufacturers have seen much higher tariffs and longer delays. Many have ended up relying on road transport, which is more polluting but gets an effective subsidy from the state, which maintains the roads.Transnet doesn’t advertise its rail tariffs, but the Ports Regulator of SA publishes port fees. In 201...

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