South Africa


As Transnet boss Siyabonga Gama fights for his job, a new report reveals why he may have lost it

Siyabonga Gama, then Chief Executive Officer of Transnet, 26 June 2007. Photo: GALLO

Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama is fighting for his job in a series of high court actions, but a new report by the Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari) shows that he was in charge of the parastatal at the height of its capture.

The below investigative graphic shows that during Siyabonga Gama’s tenure both as Transnet CEO and as CEO of its biggest sub-division, Transnet Freight Rail, there were numerous suspicious transactions related to the purchase of locomotives, cranes and the sourcing of advisory work from Regiments and Trillian. The value of these suspicious transactions are reckoned to have cost Transnet R35-billion.

It is the most detailed timeline created of how Transnet was captured in what is likely to prove the arena where the grandest corruption took place as first tallies show that the numbers to be higher than those involved at Eskom or in the Free State which were the other two epicentres of the Gupta networks deals.

At Transnet, governance structures have been re-purposed to enable corruption and rent-seeking on a massive scale. This re-purposing has come at the cost of Transnet’s ability to function effectively and to fulfil its mandate to the South African people,” the report finds.

The report reveals that during Gama’s tenure there were six instances of money-laundering to companies linked to the Gupta family of Transnet funds. There were 12 instances of questionable contracts in the IT and Media sectors; 5 questionable instances related to the purchase of cranes; 10 related to the locomotives deal and 20 related to advisory work. This advisory work involved two companies: Regiments and Trillian, both of which are alleged to have facilitated the plunder at the Transnet and Eskom.  

The report was prepared by Pari based on investigations by the investigations hub amaBhungane, from Transnet documents and independent research.

The graphic illustrates, by key, each of the areas where corruption happened at the company which is valued at R351-billion and which carries the biggest procurement spending budget in the country because it is at the centre of the infrastructure drive.

While not specifically about Gama’s tenure, the report casts a pall over his argument for reinstatement. “Corruption at Transnet has centred largely on procurement, including questionable contracts for cranes, locomotives, IT services, and advisory, financial management and consulting services. Many of these contracts were awarded by confinement – that is, without a tender. Almost all the contractors flagged in this report have been paid kickbacks to front companies related to the Gupta family. The evidence suggests that payments were often for arranging the contract awards, for assisting to launder monies abroad or else appear to reflect a business arrangement to share the ‘plunder’,” according to the Pari report.

Gama is awaiting judgment in the Labour Court which he approached on Thursday last week to ask the court to declare Transnet in contempt of court for axing him before arbitration. Earlier, Gama approached the court to interdict Transnet from suspending him. The court stayed the interdict pending arbitration, but last week’s affidavit lodged at court by Transnet chairperson Popo Molefe, makes it clear than even a successful arbitration order will not get Gama his job back.

Gama was fired as Transnet Freight Rail CEO in 2010 but was reinstated less than a year later after also fighting tooth and nail in the courts for his job.

The Sunday Times reported that former Public Enterprises minister Barbara Hogan is likely to tell the Zondo commission of inquiry into State Capture that she faced pressure from ANC high-ups like former secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and former President Jacob Zuma himself to reinstate Gama.

After Hogan was fired, Gama was reinstated by the Transnet board of the time and worked under Brian Molefe who by then held the top job. The period from 2011 to early 2018 is all regarded as the error of the capture of Transnet as it started what Pari calls the re-purposing of the transport giant for corrupt ends. At the time, Malusi Gigaba was minister of public enterprises and he approved the appointment of Iqbal Sharma to the board. Sharma was said to be close to Gigaba who tried to make him chairperson, but failed because the Cabinet at the time felt he was too close to the Gupta family.

Instead, Sharma chaired a powerful new structure called board acquisitions and disposals committee which saw it oversight of all large tenders. This structure helped the Gupta network to effectively colonise Transnet for nefarious ends. Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, instructed by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, has overturned board power over tenders at all state-owned companies.

From June 2011, the questionable contracting started at Transnet, as the graphic shows. The Gupta network, with the family’s lieutenant Salim Essa playing a key role, began to commandeer control of contracts worth tens of billions of rand: in cranes, and later in the truly big money linked to locomotive purchases and to financial advisory services at Transnet. As head of the powerful freight rail section, Gama had oversight of the locomotive purchases and some of the financial advisory service contracts.

Daily Maverick tried to contact Gama six times via his mobile phone and through his lawyer’s office via telephone calls and emails. He failed to respond to a request for an interview, either written or in person or through his lawyer.

In April 2015, Molefe was moved to Eskom by former President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet and Gama was made acting CEO.

There is no evidence to show that he stopped the pattern of capture which was clear by then. Instead, it was geared up. Trillian effectively took over Transnet’s highly regarded Treasury, as the graphic shows. There is evidence that he objected to T-systems IT contract which has also been found to be tainted.

At the time, the capture patterns show that the biggest deals were done with regard to IT system procurement and the locomotives purchases from China South Africa. Evidence obtained by amaBhungane revealed how Essa made billions of rand on kickbacks for arranging the locomotive purchases. In addition, the IT multinational SAP has apologised for the corruption of its IT contracts at Transnet. The money laundering revelations have shown how money was diverted to various Gupta family accounts in the US, Dubai and India from the Transnet loot.

Throughout this time, Gama was CEO and in December 2015 to January 2016 when the Gupta family took their entire network to Dubai’s Oberoi hotel, Gama was also invited. He later claimed that he paid for the trip on his own.

Writing in the Sunday Times at the weekend, Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said that: “Academics have found that at least R37-billion was allocated by Transnet towards tainted deals for the period 2012 to 2017.” DM

This story has been amended to correct a sentence which read that McKinsey was engaged by Transnet. It was not. We apologise for the error.