Anglo’s Wanblad cautious about pace of change at Transnet

Duncan Wanblad, CEO, Anglo American ANGLO American CEO Duncan Wanblad…

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Duncan Wanblad, CEO, Anglo American

ANGLO American CEO Duncan Wanblad welcomed recent steps by the South African government to introduce private sector participation in the country’s rail network, but said he was cautious about “the pace of things”.

The government did not allocate new funds to its rail and ports operator Transnet in the 2024 national budget potentially throwing the door open to private sector investment sooner rather than later. A cabinet-approved Freight Logistics Roadmap in December also called for the involvement of the private sector.

“Don’t for a moment misunderstand me. I think it’s very positive,” said Wanblad of government’s FLR, but he added: “I am cautious on the speed this will move. It needs to move but I worry about the pace of things.”

Mining companies like Anglo American have been participating in South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s National Logistics Crisis Committee since last year which is targeted at improving Transnet’s rail capacity which is managed through Transnet Freight Rail (TFR).

But TFR failed to register an improvement in volumes of bulk minerals last year. Deliveries of export coal to Richards Bay were unchanged in 2023 compared to 2022 at about 50 million tons while Anglo’s 70% owned subsidiary Kumba Iron Ore has cut production over the next three years in order to manage on-mine stocks which topped nine million tons.

Wanblad said the private sector didn’t need to own the rail network as it could be managed on a concession basis, but he doubted Anglo would be prepared to invest in this single-handedly. “I definitely think concessions of that [iron ore] line would be important.

“We would look to run it with a partner who is a logistics specialists. But we definitely need to get our selves into the frame. If that isn’t the answer I’m not sure how Transnet gets funded,” he said.

Mpumi Zikalala, CEO of Kumba said earlier this month her company was “looking at the proposition” of private sector investment in the network but couldn’t give a time frame on progress. “We can’t put a date on it. That wouldn’t be right,” she said.

First stop for the South African government is to appoint a full time CEO. Andile Sangqu, chairperson of Transnet and a former Anglo American and Xstrata executive, said the firm was hoping to announce an appointment by the end of the month.

Interim Transnet CEO Michelle Phillips has been tipped as a strong contender, especially by business. Zikalala said Phillips had shown transparency and a willingness to cooperate. “She has been very constructive. I hope there isn’t a political appointment,” said Zikalala.

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