Once again, with the force of unrestrained temerity and an unwavering fervour, I implore the powers that be, under the stewardship of Pravin Gordhan, to stop in their tracks and examine the spectacle that has unfolded under their inattentive eyes – the disintegration of state-owned entities (SOEs) and the clueless ministers who were bestowed with the sacred responsibility to safeguard them.

By Themba Khumalo

Transnet’s operational scope encompasses not only railway infrastructure but also the management of national ports and pipelines. Nevertheless, the organisation has encountered a range of challenges in the past few years.

Transnet, similar to other state-owned enterprises, is currently confronted with a substantial dearth of skilled personnel, particularly in key leadership roles.

A considerable number of their leaders lack satisfactory experience and are ill-suited for their positions. Furthermore, there has been a conspicuous absence of refinement and diplomacy in their leadership style, resulting in a detrimental effect on employee morale, which, we are told, has reached unprecedentedly low levels.

At Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), as it has been widely documented, there is a shortage of locomotive components, which regrettably, has led to their journey towards success hitting a speed bump, causing their momentum to dwindle.

While TFR has faced challenges such as a lack of locomotives and spare parts, cable theft, vandalism, and inadequate maintenance, the organisation also encountered difficulties due to a shortage of expertise in technical, financial, operational, and project management areas.

These pesky inefficiencies have been wreaking havoc on TFR, and if our dear government lickspittles do not summon the courage to act on their grandiose promises, we are careening towards a putrid economic cesspool as a country.

When we disembark from the train and make our way towards Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), we are greeted by a rancid odour of disorganised operations that pervades the atmosphere, evoking a strong sense of disgust.

Our ports are positioned in the bottom five among the 370 ports evaluated by the World Bank. This assessment highlights a notable deficiency in operational effectiveness and prolonged waiting periods. As a result, these ports fall considerably below established international benchmarks.

Consequently, they are experiencing a decline in their market share as more efficient African ports, notably Maputo in Mozambique, gain prominence. There exists a genuine concern that our ports may lose appeal to global shipping lines and potentially diminish their significance.

Misalignment of Talent and Skills

One of the primary challenges that has impeded the performance and growth of the state’s logistics company is the misalignment of talent and skills with respective positions.

One of the most crucial decisions a company has to make is selecting the right executives. Unfortunately, many companies, especially state-owned enterprises, often make the wrong choices in this regard. Therefore, it is essential to prioritise and pay close attention to this aspect.

Transnet has been compelled to make hasty recruitment decisions due to urgent demands and various other challenges. Inaccurate assessments of employees’ skills and goals by the employer have resulted in workers being promoted to roles that are incompatible with their abilities. Ensuring that workers are placed in suitable positions can yield several positive outcomes, such as enhancing high productivity.

Studies have demonstrated that employees highly value being in a role where they can excel and contribute meaningfully. Conversely, research also indicates that selecting an unsuitable candidate for a job can have significantly negative consequences. For instance, if a competent employee decides to leave a company due to a mismatched position, it can incur substantial costs for the organisation.

A new TNPA board is no silver bullet

The selection of a new board for the TNPA does not guarantee a solution to the organisation’s challenges. Furthermore, I hold the opinion that one member of the board is not suitable for their position and should have been appointed as the leader of the organisation instead. It is disconcerting that Nozipho Mdawe, who possesses the necessary expertise and skills, has not been assigned to the forefront of the TNPA to prevent its decline.

Throughout her extensive career at Transnet, she has held various positions within the organisation. In 2001, she commenced her journey at the Transnet Corporate Office, where she played a pivotal role in driving organisational transformation. Additionally, she worked diligently to align the company’s Human Resources development strategies with the overall objectives and strategies of the organisation.

Following her tenure at the Transnet Corporate Office, she transitioned to Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) and served as a Business Unit Executive for a period of three years. Subsequently, she joined Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) and assumed the role of Area Production Manager for the Gauteng Cluster’s production and operations activities. Later, she was promoted to the position of Deputy General Manager for Inland Operations.

In recognition of her exceptional performance, she was further promoted to the position of General Manager: Mineral Mining and Chrome at TFR, a role she held from March 2012 to 2015. In this capacity, she effectively managed a team of 1285 employees and oversaw a turnover of R5.7 billion per annum. Under her leadership, the total volumes of mineral mining and chrome grew from 18.6 million tons in 2013 to 24 million tons in 2014.

Mdawe also held the position of Secretary General at the Port Management Association for Eastern and Southern Africa (PMAESA) in Kenya from July 2015 to April 2018.

Mdawe was appointed as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) in 2018. In this capacity, she assumed responsibility for a wide range of areas including Marine Services, Aviation Services and Pilotage, Continuous Improvement, Port Planning, Lighthouses, SHE & Risk, Security, Emergency Management, Infrastructure, Dredging Services, Ship Repair, Port Control, and Port Maintenance. With her at the helm, the organisation sailed through uncharted waters, ensuring smooth operations and maintaining the highest standards of excellence.

Mdawe has institutional knowledge. In all organisations, the power of institutional knowledge reigns supreme, acting as the ultimate facilitator in the transfer of vital information and expertise among employees, both seasoned and fresh-faced.

This treasure trove of knowledge is painstakingly accumulated and generously shared over time, bestowing upon managers and team members the wisdom needed to conquer the most intricate decisions and navigate treacherous terrain.

By tapping into this wellspring of institutional knowledge, newcomers are gifted with a panoramic view of the company’s rich history, cherished values, innovative products, complex processes, and overall culture. Armed with this profound understanding, they swiftly transform into productivity powerhouses, effortlessly minimising their reliance on subject matter experts to quench their thirst for answers.

Is there a chance that the shareholder can find it within themselves to recognise Mdawe’s exceptional experience and skills, and consider appointing her as the CEO of TNPA? This would be a valuable opportunity to utilise her talents instead of having her solely participate in board meetings as Non-Executive Director.

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