Why Prasa chief executive Zolani Matthews was axed

Zolani Matthews has been fired as Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) group chief executive with immediate effect, the state-owned entity announced on Thursday.

According to a statement, the Prasa board met on Monday to determine Matthews’s fate. Matthews, an investigation found, deliberately and intentionally failed to disclose to Prasa that he holds British citizenship.

“Mr Matthews’s letter of appointment clearly stipulates (as one of the key requirements) that his contract of employment will only be confirmed upon him obtaining favourable security clearance,” Prasa said in its statement. 

“The State Security Agency (SSA) has since declined to issue Mr Matthews top secret security clearance or any other security clearance.”

Matthews was placed on precautionary suspension in November to allow the Pasa board to investigate what it deemed a “sensitive matter of security breach”.

The statement notes that, during an investigation by senior counsel, Matthews was given the opportunity to present his version of events with his lawyer present. “The findings as contained in the investigation report … were adverse against Mr Matthews. The board viewed the report in a very serious light and agreed with its recommendation.”

After having Matthews at Prasa’s helm for just nine months, the entity’s board is now on the hunt for a new chief executive. Cabinet approved Matthews’s appointment as the head of the beleaguered rail agency in February. 

Prasa has, for years, been debilitated by corruption, including the R3.5-billion contract to buy locomotives from Swifambo that was inked in 2013 during the tenure of Lucky Montana as chief executive, which turned into one of biggest of the numerous tender scandals the country has experienced over the past decade. 

The rail agency has not had a permanent boss since Montana’s departure six years ago.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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