Transnet managers ‘value production over life’

Workers at the Transnet depot in Tshwane allege that executives and senior managers demand the workforce assemble trains without proper safety procedures, jeopardising lives.

In the midst of rampant corruption at Transnet, executives and senior managers allegedly bypassed several safety procedures, adversely affecting engineers at the Koedoespoort depot in Pretoria.

On the evening of 18 January 2017, Dineo Mogashoa, 38, arrived home from Mamelodi West Clinic, where she works as a nurse. Her husband, Dikobe Adolf Mogashoa, a Transnet engineer at Koedoespoort, was leaving for the night shift.

As usual, Mogashoa phoned his wife, telling her he’d arrived safely at work, where they were assembling 22 Evolution Series Locomotives, which were part of the 359 trains bought through the tender awarded to China South Rail (CSR).

At about 9.30pm, an hour before Dineo went to bed, Mogashoa phoned again. “We spoke over the phone,” she recalls, “and when we finished, Adolf said goodnight.”

She slept.

It was their last phone call.

In the early hours of 19 January 2017, after finishing with his locomotive at the test station, Mogashoa heard a sound coming from locomotive E22081, which was being tested by some of his colleagues. The type of noise he heard often indicates an error in assembly. As the most experienced artisan, Mogashoa went to assist.

‘It was terrible’

According to a source who worked with Mogashoa that night, “There was an unfinished operation, and he wanted to finish it … Our previous business manager said if a senior technician did not finish the job, we must not come with excuses. We must finish the operation. Adolf was trying to finish [the job].”

While Mogashoa was working, he got electrocuted inside the locomotive and started screaming. “Yoh. It was terrible!” says the source.

They quickly hit the emergency button and turned off the pantograph, which engages direct current and transmits electricity to the locomotive. They called the in-house clinic, which, said the source, “took very long to come … Those people from our clinic did not have the right first aid … Adolf was still alive when they got there. Unfortunately you can’t touch someone who was electrocuted.”

He subsequently died.

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The multibillion rand locomotives tender was split into three contracts. The first and second deal, which totalled 195 locomotives, was awarded to CSR. For the third deal, Transnet wanted to buy 1 064 locomotives for about R38.6 billion.

Four companies, CSR, Bombardier Transport, China North Rail and General Electric, won the deal. But the price was inflated to R54.5 billion. After these tenders were investigated, it became clear they were at the epicentre of the state capture debacle.

A report by law firm Werksmans, aided by forensic accountant Harvey Wainer, noted: “There was a lack of appreciation of and application of mind by the executives and the board to the actual 1 064 business plan and to the interest of Transnet.”

According to a number of workers, Mogashoa’s death came about as a result of the pressure allegedly exerted by senior managers and executives to produce and assemble the trains no matter the cost.

No details of death

Seated at the house Mogashoa left her and their 15-year-old daughter in Mamelodi, Dineo says she knows very little of the details of her husband’s death.

When she speaks about him, she breaks down crying. “They just said he was electrocuted and were doing an investigation. The company managers never came back to explain what really happened. Even if somebody asks me what happened to my husband, I don’t know what to say.”

She struggles to talk, but continues. “I think about him every time and sometimes I can’t sleep … Also, a part of me is missing. I don’t like Transnet. They don’t care about their workers. If I could know what happened to my husband that night maybe I’ll find peace.”

She struggles to cope. “Ngiyazama [I’m trying],” she says.

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When a train is assembled, it has to go to four stations: the bottom equip, where most of the mechanical stuff is done, including fitting the transformer, pipes, cooling towers and reservoirs; the wiring station, where electrical wires are installed; top equip, where the wires are connected, including the pantograph, which connects the locomotive to the powerline; and the test station, where static commissioning (testing the stationary train) and dynamic commissioning (testing the train in motion) is done and all components are checked.

According to the workers who spoke to New Frame and those who offered testimonies to the Ncube Incorporated Attorney’s report, the second enquiry into Mogashoa’s death, he was likely killed as a result of a “loose busbar”.

Why, when the train had already been through three assembly points, would trained and seasoned workers fail to detect a loose busbar until the testing station? The source who was on duty when Mogashoa was electrocuted claims: “We were pressurised. Even when we had the infocomm meetings, our business manager said, ‘If you’re an artisan, you must do everything.’ We always worked under pressure.”

According to John Molope, a senior technical worker, the locomotive Mogashoa went to work on “was taken to 3kV test station [where there’s direct current] without key procedures done. The quality inspector of the top equip section and supervisor must go through that locomotive and accept and release it before the test station. They’re the ones [who] make sure that the busbars are properly secured. Now the top equip did not do their work … A loose busbar killed somebody and could have been detected before the test station.”

Management constructs records

Before a locomotive passes to another station, a check sheet must be signed off by the person who worked on the train, making sure everything at that station has been done correctly. The work must be approved by a supervisor and a quality assurer. None of this happened the night Mogashoa was electrocuted.

In the Ncube report, Patrick Thabethe, a master technical worker who started working for Transnet in 1982, says that after he returned from leave on 25 January 2017, a week after Mogashoa died, he noticed “there was a flurry of activity with regards to the check sheet of the locomotive that killed [Mogashoa]”.

When Thabethe asked why the check sheets were being populated long after the operation, the report says, “He was told by Mr Collen Kekana, his supervisor, that the task of completing the check sheets was a direct instruction from Mr Gideon Masia, a senior manager (business manager).”

Kekana confirmed this. “The operation was completed but the check sheet was populated later. It’s usually completed immediately after the operation.”

Suspended for insubordination’

Workers who take a stand against unlawful instructions from senior managers run the risk of being charged with insubordination.

Sicelo*, a supervisor, recalls being instructed to take a roof off a locomotive “yet the quality assurers did not check if it’s safe. I said, ‘No, this roof is not done. Go to ask quality first and then you can come to ask me to work on the roof.’ He forced me to do the wrong thing, and I disagreed … The roof is where high voltage is going through. It means there’s a problem. Some other components would have burnt. They value production over life. They think production is first then life … They say you must blow the whistle, but management protects each other.”

After refusing, Sicelo was taken to employment relations and suspended with three months’ pay. However, his suspension was extended to a further two months without pay. “I made an appeal and took the case to the [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] and my superiors said they made a mistake [suspending] me and [that] they’d back-pay me,” says Sicelo.

But he’d already gone into debt and got blacklisted by an insurance company. “I was struggling, even now I [have] a bad name [with] Old Mutual and other [creditors]. I was also owing R28 000 for school fees for my children, which I paid when I got my bonuses in December,” Sicelo says.

The money he paid for his children’s school fees was meant for school registration. “Things are bad just because of Transnet for not following rules and procedures,” he says. “No one is listening to floor people. They’re undermined. If a boss says so, the boss says so, whereas teamwork is important. We are not here to get someone fired, we are here to make our children’s lives better. How many people will suffer if they fire you?”

Transnet Engineering in Koedoespoort did not respond to any of the questions and follow-up emails New Frame sent.

*Names have been changed.

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