The transport department has defended S'bu Ndebele's relationship with close ally Chris Hlabisa and accused the M&G of "mischievous intentions".
The department was responding to an article published in this Friday’s M&G, which reported on speculation that one of the candidates believed to be up for the top post at the country’s road agency is close to the transport minister, S’bu Ndebele.
In a statement released on Friday, the transport department said the report was “devoid of any grain of truth, misleading” and “aimed at causing confusion and advancing narrow self-interests”.
“The insinuation that Mr [Chris] Hlabisa is ‘Ndebele’s buddy’ is a figment of someone’s imagination aimed at casting aspersion over a professional working relationship,” it said.
The department said that over the course of his 18 years in the transport sector, Ndebele has worked with several professionals. Sanral’s board of directors is responsible for the recruitment and selection of the CEO, it said, and once they agree on a candidate, the transport minister tables their recommendation before Cabinet, which makes the appointment.
The M&G on Friday reported that the candidate at the centre of the speculation, Chris Hlabisa, the former head of the KwaZulu-Natal department of transport, was recruited by Ndebele to the rail and road division of the national department in February.
It also pointed out that six members of the eight-person Sanral board, which will select the new CEO, were appointed by the minister himself.
E-tolling has emerged as an important element in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference in December and Sanral’s outgoing CEO Nazir Alli has been noted as the first casualty in the brewing battle for political prominence.
Alli, who has lead Sanral since its inception, quit in the wake of political flip-flopping over the e-tolling issue and after a series of damaging reports alleged ties between Sanral and the company involved in the arms deal. He gave no reasons for his decision to resign and the Sanral board did not push him for further details.
On Thursday it emerged that just before resigning, Alli wrote to public protector Thuli Madonsela asking her to investigate the allegations. Alli said Sanral had always conducted its business in line with the law and would cooperate fully with an investigation.