Transnet must punch above its weight to grow Africa, says new CEO Portia Derby

Newly appointed Transnet group CEO Portia Derby told delegates at the Investing in African Mining Indaba on Wednesday that the state-owned rail freight company's mission to establish itself on the African continent would yield benefits for the economy of South Africa and other African nations.

Derby said the establishment of Transnet International Holdings – a subsidiary of Transnet Group – in 2018 was a critical part of investing in the revival of the South African economy and the further industrialisation of countries on the rest of the continent.

Transnet International Holdings' key projects include a rail revitalisation programme in Ghana and the North South Rail Corridor, which connects rail networks among Southern African states.

Derby said Transnet needed to take the lead in establishing South Africa as a key investor on the African continent, mentioning that the South African economy reaps little benefit from the $104bn in Chinese exports the continent receives.

"If you look at the exports to the continent from China, they are substantial, but in terms of logistics, South Africa gets little of that. There is absolutely no reason why we can't be the queens of trans-shipment," said Derby.

Derby said Transnet was looking to position itself as a driver of increasing intra-Africa trade as European economies and China traded more with the continent than it did with itself. She said the investment in infrastructure would be a catalyst for growth in African economies.

"Jobs are the key challenge in the South African economy. It's not growth. If we can get developments going so that people are working, the economy will grow," Derby said.

She said another key objective for Transnet was to improve the transportation systems for Eskom's coal with its rail network.

Transnet chief customer officer Mike Fanucchi told delegates that Transnet was on track with a long-term strategic goal of transporting 50% more coal for Eskom through its extensive rail network as Eskom continues to try and move its coal transport off road.

"We are busy working with Andre de Ruyter and his team on that. I spoke to them before we got into the room. We have a joint team between Eskom and Transnet looking at it.

"The programme looks at 32 million tonnes transported by rail in the next five years. We are looking at getting to 11 million tonnes this year," said Fanucchi.

When asked how she would address "administrative paralysis" at Transnet, Derby said she worked in government when the Public Finance Management Act was introduced and that she understood how former state-owned entity directors used the legislation in relation to inefficiency and mismanagement.

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