Portia Derby bows to critics announcing resignation from Transnet

Portia Derby, CEO, Transnet

TRANSNET’S Portia Derby has bowed to nearly a year of pressure announcing today her resignation from the state-owned ports and rail company, effective October 31.

Nonkululeko Dlamini, Transnet CFO, has also submitted her resignation. Michelle Phillips, CEO of Transnet Pipelines will become acting group CEO November 2023, until a permanent CEO is appointed.

Derby, who was appointed Transnet CEO in February 2020, was credited with seeing the organisation through the challenging Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 as well as the improving governance and introducing a private sector partner at Transnet Port Terminals.

But her period in charge was blighted by misfortune and, according to her critics, mismanagement. On one hand, floods, computer systems hacking and rampant corruption hindered South African exports of minerals, but on the other Transnet also suffered operational mishaps and poor planning.

The situation deteriorated to such an extent that the Minerals Council sent a letter to Transnet chairperson Popo Molefe demanding Derby’s resignation. The calls for her to step down were followed up this month by the Durban Chamber of Commerce which accused her of sabotaging businesses through lack of service delivery.

Derby lost political support with the shareholder when public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan declared the company was going nowhere. This came amid poor results for the 2022 financial year in which Transnet reported a loss of R5.7bn and a drop of 23.6 million tons in rail freight, down to 149.5Mt a year earlier.

There were also strategic gaffes. As declines in trains and deliveries intensified last year, Derby announced at a mining conference plans to allocate available rail capacity to new, black-owned companies.

“We don’t want to create another Richards Bay Coal Terminal (note: RBCT is the privately funded and owned coal export terminal near Durban) which is difficult to get into,” she said. “We want to get everyone mining in a particular commodity and put them into a joint structure to help us fund the infrastructure.”

In recent days both Seriti Resources, a privately-held company, and multinational mining and trading group Glencore said it was cutting coal mining jobs in South Africa owing to declining export volumes – a condition it put down to Transnet’s faltering performance.

There was no word from Transnet regarding another of its criticised executives, Sizakele Mzimela, CEO of Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) which the Minerals Council had also asked to step down last year.