Michelle Phillips has been handed the top job at Transnet, the struggling logistics operator responsible for a string of delays and disruption in the country’s ports

Cape Town Container Port Transnet Dreamstime Peter Titmuss

Cape Town Container Port has been beset by delays and disruption

Image: Dreamstime, Peter Titmuss

South Africa’s rail and port operator Transnet has appointed a new chief executive to lead what many in the fruit industry hope is the group’s speedy recovery.

Michelle Phillips, who was appointed on 29 February by the country’s Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, faces a big challenge to turn around the state-owned enterprise.

“These are critical appointments which represent our steadfast commitment as government to equip Transnet with a competent and experienced executive leadership team, to drive the strategic interventions that the board has put in place as part of the Transnet recovery plan,” Gordhan commented.

Transnet has been under pressure for some time over its poor performance, which has led to extended delays and shipment cancellations for fruit exporters.

Phillips will be joined by a chief financial officer, Nosipho Maphumulo. Her role will include oversight of the group’s fragile finances – it has run up billions of Rands in debt, and has depended on regular government bail-outs as a result. Many have called for the operator to be privatised.

Fruit industry body Hortgro, which represents the country’s apple, pear, stonefruit and cherry industries, said it was pleased with the appointments.

The organisation had earlier welcomed recent improvements at the port of Cape Town, but reminded the industry that it will be a long battle to restore the port to its former glory.

Phillips herself is well regarded as a problem solver with good networks. She has a track record of being a team player and collaborator to achieve business objectives.

In the meantime, Transnet has sought to reassure stakeholders that the company remains “fully committed” to dealing decisively with allegations concerning recent activities at Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA).

In a statement issued by board chair Andile Sangqu, it confirmed that previous TNPA chief executive Pepi Selinga, as well as two general managers, were “on precautionary suspension while the allegations are investigated”.

Sangqu added: ”Transnet will do everything to expedite these investigations, which are being conducted by an independent law firm and a forensic firm. Transnet will take any further action as necessitated by the outcome of the investigations.

“Every effort will be made to ensure that fair labour processes are followed and that the interests of Transnet and its employees are protected.”