SPOORNET in South Africa continues to nurse ambitions for expansion elsewhere on the African continent, but these may well be hampered by trouble at home.
During December, the Ministry of Public Enterprises indicated that Spoornet could be involved in two ambitious rail networks proposed in west and southern Africa. One would serve a West African trade corridor linking Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Côte d'Ivoire. The other would join Tazara with the Great Lakes region and Bujumbura in Burundi. Spoornet also hopes to win a share in operating concessions in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, although it will limit its involvement in future concessions to participation in the Comazar consortium, which is 31·6% owned by Transnet and 63·9% by the Bolloré company of France. Comazar is currently active in the Madagascar, Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire rail concessions.
These aspirations bewilder mining and industrial heavyweights in South Africa, who complain bitterly about Spoornet's inability to move essential goods at home. Mining conglomerate Kumba Resources, bemoaning shortcomings in locomotives, wagons and management, says billions of Rand have been lost in potential ore exports to China. Its offer to buy rolling stock was not received with enthusiasm, with Transnet Chief Executive Maria Ramos remarking that the proposal 'does not necessarily make business sense' - possibly a euphemism for opposition from the trade unions.
Spoornet's troubles seem to be spilling over north of South Africa's border too. In December the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian reported that the previous month's suspension of two senior Spoornet general managers was directly linked to 'mismanagement and lack of capacity' in the year-old Zambian Railways operating concession.
Less important customers in South Africa include tour train operators, who earn useful revenue from overseas visitors. They now complain of routes being closed owing to locomotive shortages, trips delayed by motive power breakdowns or non-availability, and potentially lucrative timeslots denied to them because of 'hardware shortage'.
The resignation of Chief Executive Dolly Mokgatle and her senior colleague in charge of finance hardly bodes well for Spoornet's future.