New race for Transnet post

Transnet has wasted no time after firing freight boss Siyabonga Gama in identifying candidates for the parastatal’s top job.

Gama was summarily dismissed this week following a disciplinary hearing in which it was found there had been an irretrievable breakdown of trust with the board.

Five candidates are being touted by Transnet insiders as successors to acting Transnet chief executive Chris Wells. The talk within Transnet is that Wells will follow former Transnet chief executive Maria Ramos and join Absa.

Acting Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) chief executive Tau Morwe is one of those mentioned as a candidate for the top job. Morwe took over from Gama, who was the head of TFR, and previously served as the chief executive of Transnet Port Terminals (TPT).

But not all Transnet executives support him to take over the hot seat, pointing to allegations of tender irregularities when he was at TPT. What counts in his favour is that he is said to be a close ally of the Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises, Enoch Godongwana.

Sources in the industry told the Mail & Guardian that Transnet management had approached PetroSA chief executive Sipho Mkhize, but his spokesperson said he was unaware of this.

Mkhize is a confidant of former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and has had a less than illustrious track record at PetroSA. His appointment may irk the ANC because some in the ruling party see Mkhize as a Cope supporter.

Another candidate in the rumour mill is Karl Socikwa, who was appointed to act as interim head of TPT in November last year.

Also a Transnet veteran, Socikwa served in the parastatal for several years as the group executive for the commercial unit.

Transport union Satawu is expected to meet on Friday to decide on the union’s preferred candidates, but it is understood that the union is considering Prasa chief executive Lucky Montana and former Transnet chief executive Mafika Mkhwanazi.

Commenting on Gama’s dismissal, Satawu general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu said: “It would not be fair of the union to say we support Gama for the position even when he was found guilty. We always supported the principle of a black person being appointed to head the parastatal. We want an efficient Transnet. Gama is good but he has overstepped the mark. We hope he will find peace elsewhere.”

Waning support
Political support for Gama seems to be waning following his dismissal on Tuesday.

The Black Management Forum (BMF) was formerly a staunch supporter of Gama but has now fallen silent. “I’m having the end of financial year meeting and this is now my focus,” said BMF deputy president Thembakazi Mnyaka when approached for comment.

BMF president Jimmy Manyi also declined to comment.

Another former Gama supporter, Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, this week also kept his distance from his former golf partner.

Gama’s troubles started when he awarded a tender to a company associated with Nyanda without the necessary approval.

Those around Nyanda say the minister no longer has anything to do with Gama. “He has dissociated himself,” a source sympathetic to Nyanda said. Nyanda himself declined to comment.

Gama is understood to be taking his dismissal to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). His lawyer, Temba Langa, told the M&G he will approach the CCMA for relief based on alleged bias by advocate Mark Antrobus SC, who chaired Gama’s disciplinary hearing. Antrobus previously did legal work for Transnet and that suggests bias, according to Langa.

It is understood that Transnet suggested that Gama resort to the CCMA.

“He is currently weighing his options. He might want to take the matter to court for the decision to be nullified,” a source close to Gama said.

Gama is also considering whether to “call it a day and pursue other things”, those around him say.

Gama blames the government for not intervening in his case when it became clear it was “becoming political”. “He is not supposed to go through this if government did what they had to do. Government should have resolved the matter. These issues are not legal; they are political,” a source close to Gama told the M&G.

Gama also apparently feels that Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan has no support in the Cabinet for the way she handled the matter.

“Hogan has been a lone ranger in this. She doesn’t have support in this,” the source said.

Gama draws his remaining political support from ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who said previously that Gama “is an African manager with capabilities”.

“Gama has turned around Portnet [the National Ports Authority] and Spoornet [Transnet Freight Rail] and he is getting a raw deal,” Mantashe said. “I have strong views on black managers. I monitor them.”

For Mantashe, operational exposure is the only test of black managers and Gama performed exceptionally well.

The ANC Youth League also came out in support of Gama and said this week that it would “do everything it can to make sure that Gama is not that easily victimised”.

The league claims Gama is being “purged” by Transnet insiders who “are redirecting Transnet resources to their individual benefit and he [Gama] will expose them”.



Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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