An appeal has been made for South Africa’s freight industry to rally behind the acting executives entrusted with turning Transnet around – CEO Michelle Phillips and Russell Baatjies, chief executive of Transnet Freight Rail (TFR).
Addressing the Transport Forum on Tuesday, Stellenbosch University professor Jan Havenga said since the new board was appointed in October, “things are going in the right direction.”
With clear reference to the previous executive board steered by Portia Derby, who gutted the state-owned logistics utility by retrenching some of the most experienced people required to run Transnet, the respected logistics lecturer said: “A lot of good people have left, but they are still around and are willing to help.
Those who survived the cull, “are allowed to do their jobs again,” he stressed.
Havenga said it had become clear that Phillips and Baatjies are trying to do things differently, and asked that they be given the necessary “breathing room” to implement the necessary turn-around strategies.
He remarked that despite negativity about the state of Transnet and pessimism over the duo’s ability to decongest ports like Durban and sort out the coal line to Richards Bay, it cannot be expected that they should perform miracles in the six or so weeks since taking over from Derby’s deplorable tenure.
“They are approachable … two very good people who have inherited a very bad situation.
“Seeing the inside of Transnet again for the very first time, I am astonished to see the amount of damage caused by the previous management.”
In case there was any doubt about his contempt for Transnet’s previous executive, Havenga categorically stated that more damage was done to the utility under the leadership of Derby than during the state capture years of Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
He is not the first renowned industry thought leader to appeal for private-sector backing of Phillips and her team.
Recently, the CEO of the South African Association of Ship Operators and Agents, Peter Besnard, also appealed for support in Phillips’ favour.
He described her as the right person to put Transnet back on track, especially given changes she had implemented which unfortunately were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Another high-level industry representative at the Forum, whose name is being withheld for reasons of public-private sector collaboration, said one can only hope that Phillips and Baatjies are allowed to stay on at Transnet, as government cadre appointments to replace them will be disastrous for the ailing parastatal.