Sizakele Mzimela, Transnet Freight Rail’s (TFR) CEO for the past three years, will vacate the post at the end of October.
This is according to a letter Mzimela sent to staff on Thursday morning, where she confirmed her departure for unspecified reasons. She is the latest Transnet executive to resign, following last week’s announcement that Transnet group CEO Portia Derby and group CFO Nonkululeko Dlamini were exiting the embattled state-run ports and logistics company.
“It’s hard for me to believe that it was just three short years ago when I was received by not more than four people in the TFR office. Today, I am happy that as I leave at the end of October 2023, I had the opportunity to personally meet and engage with so many of you…,” Mzimela says in the letter.
Derby is also serving her notice period and will leave at the end of October, while Dlamini’s exit came immediately, as she had apparently resigned from the CFO post in early September.
It later emerged that Dlamini will take on the group CFO role at JSE-listed Telkom, effective 1 December 2023. The SA government is a major shareholder in Telkom.
In her TFR letter, Mzimela commended her team for their achievements during her tenure and encouraged them to continue their efforts despite the operational challenges the unit continues to face.
Mzimela described the state of TFR as a “warzone”, further writing that things “will return to normality” for her team so that TFR can operate at its optimum level to support the country’s economy.
“Despite the seemingly endless litany of legacy challenges, which include a lack of tools for peak performance, a lack of locomotives, crippling theft and vandalism, as well as the ‘potholes’ in the infrastructure system that force slower movement of trains due to our company’s safety-first ethos, you, the people of TFR continued to push forward,” she said.
Mzimela is also a former CEO of South African Airways (SAA), but this was before the global Covid-19 crisis. SAA, which has received government bailouts for years, last year emerged from a business rescue process after the Covid-19 fallout forced the already indebted national airline to ground all flights.
Mzimela is also a former executive of fellow state-run regional airline, SA Express.
Baatjies steps in
Transnet confirmed Mzimela’s exit on Thursday and announced Russell Baatjies as the man who will act as TFR’s chief executive, from 1 November 2023, until a permanent appointment is made.
“Until recently, Mr Baatjies was the managing executive for the Cape Corridor. He has previously held the role of general manager of the iron ore and manganese (IOM) Business Unit at TFR, a position he held since 2017. Under his leadership, the IOM team’s achievements include the implementation of the world’s longest production train, and the highest manganese volumes transported at 15.5 million tons,” Transnet said in a statement.
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Cosatu calls for quick replacement
The Congress of South African Trade Union’s (Cosatu) parliamentary coordinator, Matthew Parks, welcomed Mzimela’s decision to resign, saying that it was the right decision on her part, given that TFR failed to mark a material turnaround under her leadership.
Now that Mzimela has decided to step away from the entity, the federation is calling for timely leadership replacement at Transnet as the economy cannot afford a leadership vacuum at the SOE.
“We hope new leadership will be appointed quickly, not just an acting leadership but permanent leadership, and they’ll be able to turn things around. Transnet is really critical to the entire economy – to mining, manufacturing and agriculture – we simply can’t afford for it to bleed.”
Parks added that one of the consequences of a leadership vacuum at the SOE could be a jobs bloodbath for the industries that most critically rely on TFR’s systems.
Just this week, reports revealed that massive job cuts may be on the cards for mining giants Anglo American and Sibanye Stillwater as the mining sector falls off a commodities boom.
“We are quite weary of the impact upon the current crisis at Transnet in the mining industry where there’s a potential jobs bloodbath that could also follow suit into the manufacturing and agricultural sector and will also have a huge impact on the fiscus of the state…
“So, we are hoping things will move quite quickly. We don’t want a repeat of the Eskom scenario where we are sitting for more than a year, and still, we have acting leadership,” Parks said.
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