In a shocking revelation, a criminal syndicate has allegedly siphoned off a staggering R50 million in kickbacks through a sophisticated “ghost train” operation within Transnet, according to a report by the Sunday Times. The South African Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is now actively investigating this illicit network, purportedly orchestrated by a web of Transnet employees and numerous freight logistics intermediaries.
The modus operandi of this syndicate revolves around manipulating legitimate orders paid for by mining companies to transport coal to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal. Rather than adhering to the intended routes, the syndicate purportedly diverts these trains through intermediaries to alternative customers willing to purchase the coal at discounted rates.
Sources have disclosed to the Sunday Times that each diverted train can yield the syndicate profits of up to R2 million, highlighting the audacity and scale of this operation. Transnet had previously acknowledged its investigation into the “ghost trains” issue, reiterating its commitment to resolving the matter. The investigation has now been handed over to the SIU, a move confirmed by SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago.
This revelation comes as just a fragment of Transnet’s monumental financial crisis. The state-owned entity reported a staggering R5.7 billion loss for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2023, a stark contrast to the R5 billion profit registered in the previous year. Moreover, its freight rail business experienced a significant decline of 13.6% in delivery volumes during the same period.
The decline in delivery volumes can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including poor management, the idleness of locomotives, and rampant cable theft. Faced with these challenges, several mining companies have opted to transport their minerals via road routes as an alternative.
The Minerals Council, representing the majority of locally operating mining companies, has estimated that the inefficient operation of ports and freight rail lines may have cost the country up to a staggering R150 billion in lost exports last year. In response to these pressing issues, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has pledged to revamp Transnet’s performance, stating, “The deterioration in its operational and financial performance will be stopped. Nothing will be allowed to get in the way of the effective implementation of a radical plan.”
This revelation underscores the imperative need for comprehensive reforms within Transnet and highlights the grave consequences of criminal syndicates undermining South Africa’s vital economic infrastructure.
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