APPOINT SIYABONGA GAMA AND TRANSFORM TRANSNET INTO A DEVELOPMENTAL STATE OWNED ENTERPRISE:
NYIKO FLOYD SHIVAMBU
The African National Congress Youth League is on record in affirming Siyabonga Gama as the incoming Group Chief Executive Officer of Transnet. This is not fanatical support, but premised on and consistent with the developmental trajectory spelled out by the African National Congress Government. Our position on Gama re-affirms the principle we raised before, that black people and Africans in particular, should be appointed to key and strategic positions in the economy. The principles we emphasise do not only apply to Transnet, but cut across all State Owned Enterprises and huge Corporations in South Africa, which continue to be predominated by white males. These are largely inconsistent with the developmental trajectory spelled out in the ANC government’s programme, as guided by the ANC’s 52nd National Conference resolutions and 2009 elections Manifesto of building a democratic developmental state.
The developmental state’s essence should necessarily be underpinned by its institutional, technical, administrative and political capacities and ability to remain autonomous from social forces which could hamper its capacity to formulate and implement long-term economic policies. The developmental state in South Africa is aimed at creating sustainable livelihoods for all through creation of decent employment and development of infrastructure in all communities. The biggest challenge to the State capacity as witnessed in most State Owned Enterprises’ corporatisation and tendering of certain services, is evidently from the narrow interests of the private sector, mainly the cartels which get tenders for the expansion programmes, such as the R80 billion Transnet expansion programme. This somewhat constitutes the main problem on who should lead Transnet. The allegations of irregular issuing of Tenders by Gama is but a ploy to prevent him from leading Transnet, since his ascendance will threaten the accumulation patterns of certain scavenger cartels that are aiming to accumulate Transnet’s expansion programme.
The charges against Gama pertain to matters that are not even directly handled by him but by people three to four levels below him, yet he is being called to answer to them. In normal corporate governance, Gama ought to have been merely informed by the internal auditors if there were any concerns and he would delegate the appropriate General Manager to follow up and cure any irregularities, if any. Yet he is being brought to the court of public opinion to be tried and sentenced, in absentia, for actions that are not in the normal ambit and purvey of a Chief Executive. As reported in the Sunday Times, it is apparent that there are irregularities in the management of the capital Program at Transnet, to the benefit of private sector interests and Transnet management would rather distract our focus away from the scavenger cartels enjoying carcasses that they have not had to hunt for.
The view expressed in the 2008/09 Employment Equity Report that the exclusion of black, particularly African executives from key and strategic positions in huge corporations is not a result of incapacity and inexperience, it also rings very true in the case of Transnet’s exclusion of Siyabonga Gama. Siyabonga Gama spent the past 16 years in Transnet and grew within its ranks , working at the port of Durban and later managing the port of east London, to attain necessary experience and expertise to become Chief Executive to one of Transnet’s most vital component operations, the Rail Freight Division (formerly Spoornet), which he evidently managed with excellence. Prior to Transnet Freight Rail, Gama was the General Manager responsible for the vertical separation of the ports division and later assumed the role of the Chief Executive of the port authority division, which he grew to become the biggest contributor of profits to Transnet.
It was this level of achievement that prompted Transnet to request him to go and turnaround the fortunes of the ailing railways division. His experience and knowledge of Transnet far exceeds that of the recently departed GCEO, Maria Ramos, who in her own right is a capable executive. The only reason why Gama is isolated is either a result of suppressing capable African leadership at a senior level or a particular faction wants to continue controlling the enterprise, particularly the R80 billion expansion programmes, which Transnet should embark upon. It also appears that Ramos had been made aware of irregularities in this capital program, yet chose to do nothing , and instead initiated a witch-hunt against Gama in order to stop one of the most capable and experienced logistics Executives in our country from ascending to the highest role in Transnet.
Now despite the legitimate concerns we raise on the exclusion and possible persecution of Gama, we need to look broadly into the alignment of State owned enterprises to what the developmental state should do. The recent establishment of the planning commission was amongst other things in recognition of and a response to the fragmented approach that characterised government departments, state owned enterprises and private sector’s developmental programmes and interventions. Transnet, like other enterprises such as Eskom, Alexkor, Safcol and Telkom should be aligned to the country’s developmental programmes aimed at developing infrastructure, redressing the spatial inequalities and creating sustainable jobs to decisively address poverty and underdevelopment.
In execution of its tasks, Transnet should be made to understand that it is always guided by these developmental goals, whilst not diverted from the redress and transformation responsibilities it has to carry out in a country characterised by a history of racial discrimination and exclusion. It is vital to emphasise within this context that transformation and deracialisation of the economy should not be on the margins. These should instead underpin all manifestations of all State Owned Enterprises’ programmes. This does not whatsoever substitute its primary mission of developing and maintaining South Africa’s transport, freight and logistics infrastructure and systems, because this lies at the centre of the country’s economic competitiveness, growth and development.
In response to these manifestations, the government should utilise its political capacity and muscle to decisively guide the transformation project, whilst concurrently redressing the injustices of the past. The State’s developmental character is in anyway determined through its capacity, willingness and determination to intervene for developmental purposes. Inaction from the State to guide the predominantly white Transnet Board will undermine future strategic interventions by the State to transform the economy. Government should through proper process finalise the appointment of Siyabonga Gama, restructure the board into an effective and representative organ and focus on other developmental and redress priorities.
We need to be constantly alive to the reality that the private sector, particularly huge corporations are not adequately and convincingly in pursuit of South Africa’s developmental and transformation objectives. The South African government should lead by example, and ensure that State Owned Enterprises, such as Transnet are beacons of transformation, while fulfilling the necessary economic growth and developmental responsibilities required in addressing poverty and underdevelopment. The appointment of Siyabonga Gama as Transnet GCEO should happen and clearer focus dedicated towards transformation of SOEs to fulfil their developmental mandates, not used as self-enrichment schemes for both the predominantly white cartels and parasitic black business.
Nyiko Floyd Shivambu—ANC YL National Spokesperson and Head of Political Education, Policy and Research.