Pretoria - Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan allegedly fell out over R17 billion contracts which the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) recently cancelled at the behest of Mbalula, citing irregularities.
The five critical road infrastructure projects were canned due to irregularities in the tender processes, according to Sanral and government sources, as well as a statement released by the agency’s board this week.
The sources claimed that the tender specifications had been tailored to benefit big and mostly white-owned infrastructure company Raubex Group Ltd and to systematically exclude black-owned firms. The specifications were allegedly manipulated by some Sanral officials for the benefit of the identified companies.
In a statement released this week, the Sanral board, led by chairperson Themba Mhambi, said it had been “vilified”, “emotionally blackmailed” and treated like “brainless children” by some of the bidders for cancelling the multibillion-rand irregular contracts.
Free State-based construction company Raubex is one of Sanral’s biggest and long-term service providers. It is led by CEO Rudolf Fourie and chairperson Freddy Kenney. The company has been accused of being one of the white-owned companies which have captured Sanral with the help of senior government leaders and ANC politicians.
Sources said the decision to cancel the tenders did not sit well with Gordhan and Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, who felt Mbalula should have referred the matter to the National Treasury upon identifying any irregularities.
They claimed that Gordhan interfered for the benefit of Raubex, which resulted in a public fallout after Mbalula refused to proceed with the tenders and to fire the Sanral board.
“Sanral tenders are owned by Raubex. Raubex designed specifications to suit them and bar black companies. Pravin told them to approach the court after the board complained about Raubex being the only tender beneficiary on Sanral projects with the help of their supply chain,” the source said.
The sources added that the fallout, which started in 2020 when Gordhan allegedly edited out Mbalula’s inputs from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech, intensified over the R17b Sanral tenders. They said the final straw was when Mbalula ordered the Sanral board to cancel and re-advertise the tenders without consulting Godongwana.
They said this infuriated both Gordhan and Godongwana, who attacked him in Cabinet meetings and accused Mbalula of failing to read memos and prepare, resulting in Ramaphosa kicking the Transport Minister out of the meeting.
“All this because of the Afrikaner state capture of the roads through Raubex, which is taking the minister (Mbalula) to court. He said he has done everything for them which dealt with his social standing before, referring to the firing of the uMkhonto we Sizwe veterans who were guarding the railway lines and stations,” another source said.
The third source said when Mbalula tried to raise the issue with Ramaphosa, he was snubbed. He was later kicked out of the government’s Economic Investment, Employment and Infrastructure Development virtual meeting last week, following repeated complaints from Gordhan and other Cabinet colleagues about limited input.
“I mean R17bn is the money that divides colleagues.”
Marietjie van Staaden, the personal assistant to Raubex chief executive Fourie, said she had forwarded the Pretoria News’s questions to the company’s construction director, Jasper van der Bijl, who did not respond. This included allegations that Raubex was the source of the tension between Mbalula and Gordhan, claims that the company enjoyed his protection, and that it had captured Sanral.
Gordhan’s spokesperson, Richard Mantu, ignored enquiries including allegations that the source of the fallout between the minister and Mbalula was Sanral tenders and Raubex in particular, as well as claims that Gordhan did the infrastructure company’s bidding.
National Treasury spokesperson Cleo Mosana said the department would engage with Sanral leadership and provide an update in due course. Mbalula did not respond to a request for comment.
The affected tenders included the Eastern Cape’s new Mtentu River Bridge, valued at around R3.4bn and listed as one of the country’s presidential priority projects; the Durban EB Cloete Interchange Improvements valued at R4.3bn; Pietermaritzburg N3 Ashburton Interchange valued at R1.8bn; and the Eastern Cape R56 Matatiele rehabilitation tender valued at more than R1bn.
Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona said Raubex did not design the specifications for Sanral projects, adding that they were done by consulting engineers.
Mona said Raubex’s contracts with Sanral were allocated in terms of tender requirements being fulfilled, not on the basis of any capture of the agency.
“Sanral is not a political entity and does not comment on its executive authority (especially on such matters) and political leaders in general.”