The newly appointed chairperson of the Transnet board, Popo Molefe, has no regrets about tackling corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) — and he’s prepared to do it again in his new post if that’s what’s required.
He was subjected to a smear campaign after his public spat with Prasa chief executive Lucky Montana and removed as the chairperson of the board, before a high court reinstated him. He stepped down when his term ended in July last year. This week he and five others were appointed to Transnet’s interim board.
The move is part of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s overhaul of state-owned enterprises, regarded as hotbeds of corruption, which has seen several boards and problematic executives removed.
Montana’s attempts to sully Molefe’s reputation were partially successful but Molefe’s advice to his critics is: “Look at my own track record if you want to know me — go there.”
Molefe was premier of North West for a decade and served on many boards before Prasa’s.
Molefe’s prominent role in the liberation struggle saw him convicted in the infamous Delmas treason trial.
He was the first person to take an organ of state to court — the Hawks — to force it to do its job. He says he was also the first official to tackle corruption when, in the 1990s, he appointed the Skweyiya commission to investigate corruption and political destabilisation in the former Bophuthatswana homeland.
Asked about embattled North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo, Molefe says: “I have repeatedly offered to assist and work with him to bring back the many experienced people in the province who have been marginalised. He agrees with me all the time but then he doesn’t do it.”
Last week the government placed the province under administration.
Molefe’s task at hand is to fix Transnet, but how big is the mess? “I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t want to proceed on the basis that I’m going into an organisation that is corrupt to the core.”
He has yet to get sight of the reportedly scathing findings of an investigation by Werksmans Attorneys into the 1 064 Transnet locomotives tender. Molefe anticipates long hours ahead in getting to grips with all the issues. “I’m the accounting authority; I can’t go and say I wasn’t aware of that … I have to understand the organisation.”
Former nonexecutive Transnet director Seth Radebe says he is mulling over his options after Gordhan removed him from the rail agency board this week. Gordhan’s office says Radebe was removed because he and the board refused to act on the Werksmans report but Radebe says it’s because he resisted pressure from the minister to remove executives.
Molefe says the new board has yet to meet Gordhan. “If that is his intention [to remove executives], I’m sure he will tell us.”
Molefe says the board will carry out directives that are lawful and in keeping with the mandate of the organisation.
“I have known Minister Pravin Gordhan for many years. I have never known him to be a person who is vindictive and capricious.”
Although people cannot be removed without good reason, they are also not appointed to serve until the day they die, Molefe says. “From time to time, an organisation will need new ideas. That is why they are encouraged to have succession planning.”
Molefe says state capture has by no means been defeated, although “I’m pleased that now there is a new spirit in my party. There is a growing understanding and commitment that for us to build this country to be what we envisioned, we have to deal with the malice of corruption.”