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Transnet workmen work on rail lines. Picture: FREDLIN ARIAAN
Transnet workmen work on rail lines. Picture: FREDLIN ARIAAN

Reading Transnet CEO Portia Derby’s spin makes you realise she lives somewhere far away from the real world ( “How we are getting Transnet back on track”, March 21). 

As Western Cape finance & economic opportunities MEC David Maynier wrote, the Port of Cape Town is on its knees ( “Why it’s time to privatise the Port of Cape Town”, March 13). 

Last week, all three mobile cranes did not work.  Speak to high-level staff and they tell you that between a lack of competent, motivated staff, BEE requirements for procurement and weak top management, the port is teetering on the brink of collapse; a matter of day-to-day crisis management.

Jump to the Richards Bay line, where coal companies are shipping 30% less than a year ago because of vandalism and a lack of train sets. The Johannesburg to Durban line, which used to employ 60 drivers doing shifts on the trains moving containers and cars, now has not one. The line is essentially inactive, yet the president expects the multinational car companies to ramp up exports.

Speak to third-party users of Transnet engines and tracks and they will tell you horror stories of incompetent and unmotivated staff they must deal with daily. Their businesses are almost in ruins, but they must keep quiet due to their dependency on the operator.

In any normal private enterprise business the no work, no pay principle applies, yet at Transnet staff were on full pay throughout the Covid-19 crisis. And because there is now so little activity, most drivers are sitting at home on full pay. No wonder they are resentful when they must come to work. Perhaps Derby can explain how many workers are sitting at home because there is no work, and how many are sitting at work with nothing to do.

The Passenger Rail Agency SA and its 15,000 workers and 3,000 “ghosts” are delivering 5% of the service they provided before lockdown. They have the best jobs in SA. No wonder there is no motivation to sort this out.

Readers in Cape Town must look at the central line next time they go over the N2 bridge near the airport — the tracks and upright electricity poles have been stolen. How can that happen when you have so many idle employees? Even so, Derby expects her private sector clients to provide security on the Richards Bay line. She also wants to share her broken Durban line with private operators, but how is she going to guarantee it will be fixed?

The ports she wants to share, she wants to control, to take advantage of the hard work the new operators will have to put in to make it work again. They certainly don’t want to share her unmotivated and unskilled staff or her expensive BEE contractors.

Can anyone see the government that owns these companies laying off staff who don’t work, or weeding out cadres who cannot do their jobs? No, it would rather keep the spin going. But this is not SAA, where Pravin Gordhan can give you R10bn to play more BEE and affirmative action games as it slowly dies, since efficient overseas or private operators will pick up the slack.

This is going to tip the economy over the edge. This time, sitting on the fence or kicking the can down the road is not going to work. The spin means nothing. The government must sell the Richards Bay railway and let the exporters run it, as they do the port. It must sell off the Durban line so the motor exporters can keep trading. It must sell complete sections of SA’s ports to other operators so they can run it the way they want. Cape Town port must also be sold to private operators, because if things carry on as they are the province’s fruit export economy will be destroyed.

No-one can deal with Transnet; they live in cloud cuckoo land, believing their own spin.

Rob Tiffin
Cape Town

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