Caption: Captain Rufus Lekala has returned to work as chief harbour master.

DUrban - Transnet Chief Harbour Master (CHM) Captain Rufus Lekala has been reinstated to his post after a long suspension.

Lekala is back at work but Captain Naresh Sewnath, who acted in Lekala’s place during the period when he was unavailable, will remain as acting CHM until the end of the year during which time Lekala will be brought up to speed with current affairs at the ports.

No reason was ever provided for Lekala’s sudden disappearance from office in mid-March last year.

At the time, the then Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) chief executive was Richard Vallihu, whose only comment was that Lekala had been placed on precautionary suspension due to alleged irregularities. “This is to enable the internal investigation process to reach a fair conclusion,” he said.

It has taken 17 months for TNPA to arrive at that conclusion, but whether this will be disclosed is unlikely.

Why this process took so long will also in all probability remain a mystery.

When asking questions about his sudden disappearance, one of the common responses was that as Lekala was an executive, “no-one below executive level may respond to queries about him”. That was until Vallihu made the brief statement quoted above.

Lekala made history when he was appointed in 2002 as South Africa’s first black harbour master (and also the youngest in the world) at the port of East London and later at Cape Town. He became chief harbour master on June 1, 2011, transferring to Durban in the process.

He used to enjoy telling the story of how, after matriculating, he lacked the finances to study so he drove taxis in Pretoria for the next five years, earning little money and not enjoying the job, until in 1996 when he read that Portnet (now TNPA) was offering bursaries to study within the maritime sector. He took the opportunity and never looked back.

He is now back in his office in the Durmarine Building at the T-Jetty where he will shortly take up the reins - or is it the helm? - as South Africa’s chief harbour master.

The Mercury