Tomorrow Pravin faces battle royal

Pravin Gordhan faces a fierce fightback this week as Transnet chief executive Siyabonga Gama is set to know his fate tomorrow and a former board member fights for his reinstatement in court.

Gama should know tomorrow what the Transnet board, which had asked him to explain why he should not be suspended, has decided on his future.

Seth Radebe, the former Transnet board member and audit committee chair whom Gordhan axed in May, heads to the High Court in Pretoria tomorrow seeking an order declaring his removal as “unlawful”, ordering his reinstatement and removing the company’s new board, chaired by Popo Molefe.

In court papers Radebe said his removal was “unconstitutional and unlawful”.Radebe suggests that there was racial bias in the way Gordhan treated him.

On Thursday Transnet engineering chief executive Thamsanqa Jiyane and former supply chain manager Lindiwe Mdletshe were suspended for their roles in awarding the highly inflated R54.5 billion tender for 1 064 locomotives from which the Guptas are said to have received more than R5 billion in kickbacks.

Transnet said their “representations ... were implausible and that their continued presence at Transnet is likely to hinder and prejudice further forensic investigations that the board has instituted”.

City Press understands Jiyane refused to accept the board’s decision, saying only Gama had the the power to suspend him.

“He refused to hand over the company-issued laptop and cellphone. Security used force to retrieve the items from him,” said a source. Jiyane failed to comment.

Now Gama, who went on sick leave this week as announced on the company’s intranet, is set to follow.

City Press understands that Gordhan was briefed on on Thursday by Mncedisi Ndlovu & Sedumedi (MNS) Attorneys, the law firm handling the board’s investigation.

Meanwhile, Radebe, in his court papers, accused Gordhan of victimisation, saying he was appointed by Gordhan’s predecessor Lynne Brown in December last year and had nothing to do with the inflated tender.

He said in April Gordhan summoned the Transnet board to his Pretoria offices and accused them of “being party to what he described as state capture and of not taking action against the chief financial officer of Transnet [Garry Pita]. I understood the minister to imply that the board was involved in corruption,” he said, adding that Gordhan said Pita’s name had come up in news reports and he appeared to have been involved in corruption.

“[He] then instructed the board to suspend [Pita]. I was surprised and concerned that [Gordhan] appeared to be basing his conclusions purely on media reports. It appeared obvious to me that since [he] was still new in his position he had not sufficiently apprised himself of the facts of whatever was reported to him or what he read in the media.”

Radebe said he was “concerned” and “taken aback” and thought Gordhan would have first sought the board’s input.

“At the meeting [Gordhan] boasted that he could easily instruct some of the banks either to lend money or withdraw support for state-owned entities. I was concerned [his] utterances and boastfulness were improper and inappropriate,” he said.

Pita resigned the following day, after which Radebe claimed Gordhan told him “he now wanted the board to suspend ... Gama”.

“[Gordhan] threatened that he would remove the entire board if it failed to carry out his instruction of removing [Gama]. I was mortified by [Gordhan’s] unlawful instructions. It was clear to me that [he] had no regard for the independence and statutory obligations of the board members and their fiduciary duties as directors.

“I expressly disagreed with [him] and pointed out to him the unlawfulness of his instructions, and further pointed out no factual or legal basis existed for suspending or removing Gama.”

Radebe said he told Gordhan there was “no prima facie evidence of any wrongdoing by Gama”, to which Gordhan allegedly responded by asserting that Gama “should be suspended regardless of whether he had committed any act of impropriety or wrongdoing”.

Radebe alleged he received a letter from Gordhan inviting him to provide reasons why he shouldn’t be removed from the board.

Radebe also detailed an “unfortunate encounter” with Gordhan in Parliament in which he accused him of “failing to suspend certain people” as per the recommendation of law firm Werksmans”.

Radebe said it was clear to him that Gordhan was not familiar enough with the Werksmans report and “wrongly assumed that it was a finalised report and did not have proper grasp of its patent inadequacies”.

“At that point [Gordhan] was furiously raising his voice and attempted to put undue pressure on me to carry out his unlawful instructions. I might perhaps point out that I considered [his] conduct improper and amounting to bullying,” he said.

Gordhan’s decision to remove him from the board as fellow board member Arlana Kinley, who is white, had been appointed to Transnet on the same day as him, had not been treated the same way. He said Gordhan did not explain her differential, preferential and seemingly special treatment.

“Other than the fact that Ms Kinley is a white woman, it appears to me that there was no objective basis for the special treatment she received from the minister. Conversely, my attorneys asserted to the minister that he had chosen to treat me differently because I am a black African person. The other possible difference is that I had refused to carry out the minister’s unlawful instructions.”