Like Eskom, Transnet has become a bottomless pit. Its debt has ballooned to R134 billion. But it’s a small matter for those running the huge parastatal that has gone off its tracks. They have a rich uncle who has an inexhaustible supply of funds and who is ever so willing to bail them out.
Just as how the state always bails out Eskom, SAA and various other state-owned entities (SOEs) that are riddled with corruption, inefficiency, mismanagement and wasteful expenditure, it will readily bail out Transnet.
For the money is not coming out of the pockets of the highly paid government officials but from the overburdened taxpayer. Why should Transnet bosses fret over the mountain of debt?
Not only is Transnet deep in debt but it cannot deliver iron ore, coal and other minerals to the ports for exports. Mines have to rely on road transport to get their products to the ports. Huge trucks laden with iron ore and coal wind their way like trains to Durban and Richards Bay.
Why has Transnet gone off the tracks? Simply, it doesn’t have the right people to run the huge public company. They made some terrible blunders, like buying locomotives from Spain which were not the right size for our tracks.
Not having learnt from that costly error, Transnet entered a Gupta-linked deal with the Chinese state-owned rail company, China Railway rolling Stock Company (CRRC), and bought 160 locomotives at inflated prices in the heady days of Jacob Zuma’s time.
The locomotives are barely 10 years old and many are standing idle. CRRC is refusing to supply spare parts to repair the locomotives as there’s a dispute with Sars over tax. And China is South Africa’s friend.
From 2 200 locomotives in 2019, it had only 1 500 working locomotives in 2022. It had lost a third of its capacity.
Portia Derby, the CEO, was overwhelmed by the problems at Transnet and quit after just three years. After years of neglect, maladministration, corruption and looting, it is not easy for any new boss to clean up the mess piled up. You have to be super efficient. And there isn’t anyone in the public service who can rise to the challenge of overhauling Transnet.
The government wants the private sector to get involved but Transnet is dragging its heels.
Until such time the government realises it is hopeless in running any public service efficiently, and that the root cause of SOEs ailing is cadre deployment, Transnet will be off the tracks for a long time and be a big burden on the taxpayer.
* T Markandan, Kloof.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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