South Africa’s beleaguered state ports and rail company deepened its feud with the private sector, accusing business chambers of intimidation because they owe it money.
A Sept. 12 letter from a business chamber in Durban, the site of Africa’s biggest container port, to the minister of public enterprises, called for Transnet SOC Ltd.’s Chief Executive Officer Portia Derby and her team to be removed because of the woeful state of the nation’s ports and freight rail service.
Prasheen Maharaj, president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is also the CEO of Sandock Austral Shipyards, a unit of which is in a court dispute with Transnet over 116 million rand ($6.1 million) in rent that allegedly hasn’t been paid, documents seen and confirmed by Bloomberg show.
“Those who owe money will have to pay, and the company will not be intimidated,” Transnet said in a statement on Thursday, which detailed the regular interactions it has with the chamber in a bid to resolve operational issues. “Transnet will no longer tolerate a distortion of public discourse by individuals who fail to disclose their true motives.”
Maharaj said a response to Transnet’s statement will be issued after “we have followed the governance procedures of the Durban Chamber.”
Maharaj’s company uses sites at the Port of Durban, owned and run by Transnet, for shipbuilding and ship repairs and is in a dispute with the logistics operator after its rent was increased in 2015, the state firm said in the documents. The amount due, initially almost 43 million rand, has escalated due to interest and other “unpaid rentals,” Transnet said. The case is currently before the Durban High Court.
Transnet didn’t respond to a request for further comment on the dispute with Maharaj’s company.
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, in a statement on Tuesday, acknowledged the letter from the Durban Chamber and other groups and said a directive he gave to Transnet’s board three weeks ago to make recommendations on how to improve performance included a review of management.
In 2022, the tonnage of coal railed to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal fell to a 30-year low. A 2021 World Bank index of container port performance ranked Durban 364th out of 370 and two other Transnet ports were also in the bottom 10.