Transnet has suspended the head of its Durban-based Maritime School of Excellence amid student complaints of mismanagement.
Transnet spokesperson Molatwane Likhethe declined to comment on the suspension of school head Herschel-Michael Maasdorp, but confirmed that a disciplinary inquiry “involving … implicated officials” was under way following an official investigation.
He refused to release the report of the investigation, saying that “matters between Transnet and its employees are confidential and cannot be discussed with external parties”.
AmaBhungane recently spoke to two students of the maritime school, who said Maasdorp sent students a text message in June that stated: “Kindly refer your questions to [training facilitator] Captain Sanks and [acting senior manager of port services] Thamsanqa Basi. I have been suspended [from the maritime school] due to the complaints from … learners.”
Maasdorp declined to comment this week, saying Transnet had forbidden him from commenting on anything relating to the school.
The school’s financial manager, Anand Govender, confirmed that he too was suspended this year before he resigned in June.
Govender said that according to Transnet, he was suspended on the grounds that he had not followed processes, but that it had not clarified what this meant. He denied any wrongdoing.
In January this year, amaBhungane reported on the grievances of the school’s class of 2014 who enrolled at the Durban facility to be trained for work at the ports and on cargo ships. The intake comprised 126 trainees.
The two student representatives who spoke to amaBhungane more recently complained that:
- Their academic programme was poorly planned, with disruptions which forced them to go home on at least one occasion;
- Thirty-eight students who studied general purpose ratings have not yet undergone the practical part of their training, which involves spending 22 months on board a ship.
- The September 2016 graduation was a public show that took place before they had completed their qualifications.
- Eighty-eight Transnet Ports Terminals (TPT) students have not been able to find work outside Transnet because their qualifications, including the TPT planner course and other cargo co-ordinating courses, are not recognised by other employers.
- Other qualifications, such as a freight handling course that included 13 weeks of practical work experience, earned students a National Qualification Framework level three qualification – when NQF level 4 was a minimum entry requirement for the course.
“With NQF level 3 qualifications, we’re eligible for warehouse jobs that pay only R6,000 a month,” complained one student.
As part of the cargo co-ordinator and operating lifting equipment stream, Nkululeko hoped to work for Transnet as a port planner, cargo controller or machine operator. Each of those positions pays at least R15,000 a month.
The students also complained that midway through their training they were abruptly moved from their lodgings to a guest house owned by a certain Marvin Linderboom.
Vincent Crouch, the owner of SAW Self-Catering in the Durban suburb of Sydenham, said in an interview that he had an 18-month contract to house and feed the students. However, a year into the contract the students had not returned to his facility after their July holidays.
“I never got an answer from Transnet for why they were moved,” Crouch said. “But I was called to a meeting with manager Govender and Marvin Linderboom. I was told to invoice Linderboom for two outstanding payments.”
Crouch said that Transnet investigators had spoken to him about the accommodation issue and that he had provided them with documents.
Govender said he had merely introduced them because Linderboom wanted to employ Crouch, and had no further dealings on the issue.
The students said they had tried to relay problems of insufficient and spoiled food and other complaints about Linderboom’s lodgings, but were told by officials in the school management that they were being “ungrateful”.
Several attempts to contact Linderboom for comment were unsuccessful. His receptionist said he was “on site”, but would not provide his mobile phone number. He also did not respond to emailed questions.
The students said that amaBhungane’s inquiries about the maritime school spurred Transnet to action, including an official investigation of the school’s staff that was announced late last year. However, Transnet has not told them or the public of its findings.
In 2015, Transnet pledged to spend R7.7-billion on training over ten years. It established the school in 2013 to address the shortage of technical skills in the maritime sector and the critical skills deficits in South Africa generally.
At the graduation of the 2014 school intake, acting chief executive Siyabonga Gama announced that the parastatal had already spent R2.5-billion on training in what it calls “internationally recognised qualifications”.
The students – many of whom applied for entry-level jobs to Transnet when they were invited to enrol at the maritime school – said their biggest disappointment was that very few of them have been offered employment by Transnet, despite verbal promises by Maasdorp and Govender.
A student source said that last month, six of the 88 TPT graduates were placed at Transnet’s Ngqura port in Port Elizabeth; amaBhungane was told the contracts were temporary, but amaBhungane was unable to confirm this.
In the training agreement, which amaBhungane has seen, Transnet reserves “the right not to offer a service contract to the trainee”.
The graduates say Transnet’s senior specialist in research and development Thamsanqa Basi told them the parastatal could not afford to hire them because of the economic downturn.
One student, Nkululeko (not his real name), said that soon after learners from across the country arrived at the Durban campus, they sensed that the school had not planned the academic programme properly.
He said they spent almost three weeks on basic HR induction programmes and medical tests. Despite maths being an entry requirement for the programme, they spent a further month doing a maths bridging course.
In January, amaBhungane reported that the general purpose ratings group was told in August 2015 that their programme had been put on hold until further notice. Later, the students were sent home pending the Transnet investigation.
It was also reported by amaBhungane that to complete their practical experience in freight handling, the group was sent to a logistics company and a supermarket.
Many of them worked as delivery van assistants making deliveries, while others manned the tills and the bakery at the supermarket.
The students said their freight handling course was facilitated by another service provider.
Without being able to see and use the forklifts, scanners and record-keeping software they were learning about, they said, they found the training difficult to master.
Responding to the students’ criticisms, Transnet said “the school has been in constant contact with students to ensure that they are kept abreast of any developments or further interventions that have been put in place towards the completion of their training programme. Transnet has held several engagements with the learners and their representatives.”
Graduates of the school’s 2013 intake also contacted amaBhungane, claiming that their programme was also chaotic.
A student source said that the TPT group received only five months of theoretical training and one month of practical instruction.They were then moved to Transnet’s engineering school, where they did a year of training as “examiner repairers”.
The source said most of the 2013 TPT recruits had struggled to find employment elsewhere with qualifications that were not universally recognised. Transnet disputed this, insisting that 92% of the graduates were absorbed.
A memorandum signed by Maasdorp in January this year, seen by amaBhungane, showed that he was still trying to place members of the 2013 intake in employment when the 2014 intake had already graduated.
The memo, written to human resources general manager Dumisani Khuzwayo in January this year, requests permanent employment for 19 TPT graduates from the 2013 intake.
In it, Maasdorp says Transnet had “spent lot of money providing various training programmes” and that the “return on investment has not been achieved”.