Silinga accuses Satawu of meddling in Transnet tender

Silinga accuses Satawu of meddling in Transnet tender

Chief executive of Transnet National Ports Authority Pepi Silinga.

Chief executive of Transnet National Ports Authority Pepi

Image: Supplied

Transnet boss Pepi Silinga has accused the national leadership of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) of trying to pressure the state entitys executives to award a tender to a company from which the union would financially benefit.

In an internal memo to the Transnet board, Silinga claims he was approached by Satawu president Ntuthuzelo Mhlubulwana and secretary-general Jack Mazibuko last year asking him to explain why he had  cancelled a cargo-handling contract that had been awarded to Durban-based Solethu Marine Services.

Silinga claims the meeting, to which he brought Transnets head of legal, happened in Gqeberha on July 14, at the request of Satawu.

He said the pair asked him to ensure the appointment of Solethu Marine to handle cargo in the Port of Ngqura in Eastern Cape.

In recent months, Satawu has led the charge to have Silinga removed from the state entity, accusing him of corruption, favouritism and nepotism.

The relationship is so fraught that in a recording of another meeting between Transnet management and labour on September 19, Satawus Sihle Nguse, who is also a City of Joburg ward 60 councillor, is heard saying the union would approach public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan to fire Silinga and group chief executive Portia Derby.

Ten days later, Derby quit.

Silinga took leave of absence two weeks ago, allegedly to give space for the investigation against him to continue without perceived interference.

He is the latest official under fire in the troubled state entity where senior executives resigned last year following criticism of underperformance and increasing pressure from unions.

In his briefing note to the board on January 24, which Sowetan has seen, Silinga claims that during the meeting, Mzibuko and Mhlubulwana allegedly asked him why he had cancelled a contract, which had already been awarded to Solethu.

The contract was awarded in April but on June 7, the day before the signing ceremony, Silinga said he picked up irregularities in the tendering process, halted it and subsequently advised Transnet to approach the court for a legal review of the tender process in order to comply with the law.

It was at this stage Satawu allegedly approached him, telling him that the union was in a dire financial situation and needed financial support from Solethu.

Silinga said he explained the situation to the unions leadership in the meeting. He claimed they tried to persuade him to abandon the court process and to rather have Transnet continue awarding of the contract.

When that failed, Silinga claims the pair tried to have him guarantee that when the process was rectified, Solethu would still be awarded the tender.

Silinga claimed he refused to give a guarantee but assured the two that Solethu would not be unfairly prejudiced. He claimed the meeting ended with Satawu saying they would report back to the company.  

An insider close to Silinga said it was after that meeting that the relationship between Satawu and Transnet worsened.

Satawu spokesperson Amanda Tshemese said they would not respond to Silinga’s allegations.

The Port of Nqgura.

The Port of Nqgura.
Image: Werner Hills

“The union is busy rooting out corruption at Transnet, we will not be distracted by baseless accusations, Silinga is trying to disturb the process as he is being investigated by the SIU. We are not surprised at all, Silinga is here spreading lies, and the union doesn’t respond to such nonsensical lies,” said Tshemese.

Both Solethu and Transnet said they would not comment as the tender matter was still before courts.

In the recording of the September 19 meeting, Nguse threatens to use his political influence to have Transnet bosses fired for what he said was their failure to take responsibility for poor decisions such as the procurement of generators, which he said were a white elephant in the entity.

The purpose of the September meeting was for Transnet leadership to give a report on its assessment of the performance of the business.

But Satawu believed the assessment exercise was a precursor to a planned privatisation of the state entity.

In that recording, Nguse can be heard saying unions were refusing to be coopted to an agenda that could lead to the privatisation of the maritime business. He then threatens to tell Gordhan to fire Derby and Silinga for failing in their responsibilities to lead the entity.

Our strength is outside. To mobilise politicians and deployed individuals. Tomorrow, Pravin will know about this. We are going to tell PG. Pepi, we are meeting PG tomorrow and we are saying the board must do the honourable thing and speed up the process of firing people who are incompetent, who just come here and speak nice English.

Most of you must just do the honourable thing, introspection and resign.”