South Africa: Who’s who in Transnet CEO’s executive team?

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg
Posted on Friday, 30 September 2022 10:46

Photo by TAR

Transnet Group CEO Portia Derby once exercised oversight on state-owned entities (SOEs) as director-general of public enterprises. She now occupies the hot seat at a company often described as the “spinal cord” of South Africa’s economy. Meet CEO Derby's executive team at Transnet.

Transnet and Eskom sit side-by-side as the biggest SOEs in the South African government’s portfolio, occupying strategic positions in key segments of the economy – ports and freight rail, and electricity.

When Transnet sneezes, South Africa’s export-driven sectors, including mining, catch a cold. When Eskom falters, the domestic economy flounders.

Both entities have emerged from and were affected by, state capture. Today, Transnet and Eskom are at the forefront of the current administration’s structural reform efforts.      

Between 2002 and 2009, Derby (previously Molefe) rose to prominence in the public sector at the departments of trade and industry, and public enterprises under the leadership of former minister Alec Erwin, a Thabo Mbeki loyalist.

Derby, an economist, is a former chief operating officer at the department of trade and industry. She is most well known for having served as the public enterprise’s director-general when SOEs had high-profile CEOs, such as Maria Ramos and Thulani Gcabashe at Transnet and Eskom, respectively.

That was the period when the government corporatised SOEs, introduced the concept of strategic equity partnerships, and executed the separation of South African Airways (SAA) from Transnet.

In late 2008, when the African National Congress recalled Mbeki as state president, Erwin was among 13 cabinet ministers and three deputy ministers who resigned in solidarity.

Towards the end of 2009, Derby stepped down as public enterprises director-general during a time when there was an exodus of Mbeki-era technocrats from the public sector.

In January 2020, Derby returned to the public sector as Transnet CEO after the Popo Molefe-chaired board recommended her as the preferred candidate for the assignment to restore Transnet’s dented credibility, finances, and operations.

The appointment raised eyebrows because Derby’s ex-husband, Brian Molefe, is a former Transnet CEO and an implicated party in its capture.

However, Derby quickly moved to allay concerns about her independence, telling a local publication she would not be a stumbling block on investigations into her erstwhile spouse.

Dlamini (born Veleti) is a chartered accountant who cut her teeth in the public sector, having previously risen through the ranks at Eskom, where she spent 14 years.

Dlamini sits with Derby on the Transnet board as an executive director.

Dlamini testified before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture (Zondo Commission) about the circumstances surrounding her appointment as Eskom’s acting financial director following the suspensions of senior executives.

Dlamini left Eskom in 2015 and joined the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) as chief financial officer.

In that role, Dlamini steered through Futuregrowth Asset Management’s 2016 decision to suspend loan rollovers and new loan extensions to six SOEs, including the IDC, pending governance reviews and assessments.

Dlamini’s engagements with Futuregrowth resulted in the asset manager restoring lending lines to the IDC.

 At the end of July this year, during Transnet’s results presentation for the year ended 31 March 2022, Derby described Dlamini as “cool and calm” under pressure.

Mzimela, also an economist, served as the CEO of SAA (2010-2012) and South African Express (2018-2020 and 2003-2010). She founded Fly Blue Crane, the country’s first black- and woman-owned airline, which has since ceased operating.

When the Cheryl Carolus-chaired board recommended Mzimela for appointment as SAA CEO, they made history because Mzimela became the first woman to occupy the position in the national carrier’s existence.

Although credited with making headway in SAA’s turnaround, Mzimela’s time at the airline was cut short in 2012.

In 2012, Carolus and eight other non-executive directors resigned from the SAA board en masse, citing a lack of support from the new public enterprise’s minister, Malusi Gigaba.

Mzimela testified before the Zondo Commission about her time at SAA.

Mzimela is responsible for Transnet’s biggest operating division – Freight Rail, which is at the forefront of work being done to open access to third parties.

Silinga, an engineer, is the former CEO of the Coega Development Corporation (CDC), where he spent 22 years.

In 1998, Silinga joined the nascent Coega project, which was conceived to establish an industrial development zone and a deep-water port in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The Coega project was initially resisted, subject to political contestation, riddled by concerns about its viability, faced criticism about its environmental impact, and dealt with sensitivities surrounding the relocation of a community.

Now, Coega, which is operated by the CDC, is considered one of the most successful projects in South Africa’s democratic era. Its special economic zone is the largest in the southern hemisphere and its port serves as a transhipment hub.

In 2021, the government announced that Transnet National Ports Authority will undergo a process, which will result in the Ports Authority becoming an independent subsidiary of Transnet with its own board. The change is intended to improve the performance of South Africa’s ports.

Silinga is considered a safe and steady pair of hands for the task.

Shaw, who holds a doctorate in transport economics, was appointed acting director-general at public enterprises in 2009 following Derby’s departure.

His other public sector roles include deputy director-general for transport at the department of public enterprises; lead transport specialist at the Development Bank of Southern Africa; and interim CEO of Broadband Infraco.

Shaw’s expertise includes infrastructure projects in transport, finance, and policy development.

In the private sector, Shaw was in the recent past PwC’s Africa transport and logistics leader.

Shaw’s strategic inputs and guidance will be pivotal in ensuring Transnet strikes a balance between its evolution and future sustainability.

Coetzee, an admitted advocate of the high court, is another former deputy director-general at the department of public enterprises.

Her most recent high-profile role is acting head of the Independent Power Producers Office, an agency of the department of mineral resources and energy. Prior to that, Coetzee also worked at SAA as general counsel and general manager for risk and compliance.

Coetzee is responsible for cleaning up the questionable contracts Transnet concluded during the company’s state capture years, including the contract for 1,064 locomotives entered into with four original equipment manufacturers.

Pillay is the newest addition to the Transnet fold having been appointed earlier in 2022. Previously, he was a senior manager at Eskom and in 2016 was appointed the power utility’s group treasurer.

Pillay left Eskom in 2019. He also testified before the Zondo Commission about his time at Eskom. In addition to Eskom, Pillay’s public sector experience includes a five-year stint at the National Treasury as chief director for liability management.

In 2020, joined Telkom as the company’s group executive for the treasury function.

At Transnet’s results presentation for the year ended 31 March 2022, Dlamini said Pillay joined the group in the “thick of negotiations” with lenders for the redemption of the company’s $1bn bullet bond that was nearing maturity.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options