South Africa’s R50-million “ghost train” criminal syndicate

A criminal syndicate has pocketed up to R50 million in kickbacks by running a “ghost train” operation at Transnet, the Sunday Times reports.

According to the report, the SIU is now investigating the syndicate, which is allegedly run by a network of Transnet employees and several freight logistics middlemen.

The syndicate allegedly adds more trains to legitimate orders paid for by mining companies to collect coal heading to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal.

These trains are then diverted through the middlemen to other customers, who buy the coal at reduced rates.

Sources told the Sunday Times that each train can earn the syndicate up to R2 million.

Transnet previously acknowledged that it was investigating a “ghost trains” problem and reaffirmed this to the Sunday Times.

It added that it had handed the investigation over to the SIU — which SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago also confirmed.

Transnet’s struggles

This investigation forms just a small part of Transnet’s massive financial crisis.

Last month, Transnet reported a R5.7 billion rand loss for the year ending 31 March 2023 — compared with a R5 billion profit the previous year.

Furthermore, its freight rail business delivery volumes decreased by 13.6% during the period.

These volume drops are due to several reasons, including poor management, idle locomotives and cable theft.

Several mining companies have worked around the problems plaguing Transnet by transporting their minerals by road instead.

Furthermore, the Minerals Council — which represents most locally operating mining companies — estimates poorly run ports and freight-rail lines may have cost the country up to R150 billion in exports last year.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has committed to improving Transnet’s performance.

“The deterioration in its operational and financial performance will be stopped,” said Gordhan.

“Nothing will be allowed to get in the way of the effective implementation of a radical plan.”

Now read: Transnet sues Sasol and Total for R1.28 billion

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South Africa’s R50-million “ghost train” criminal syndicate