I have read with interest comments made by my two countrymen in your The Villager (14 to 20 January 2013). While I agree with some of their ideas, I disagree on fundamentals.
The question may arise as to what my knowledge is about the three companies suggested for possible merger? Thus the following:
I joined Namport as the first black marketing manager immediately after South Africa had handed it over to Namibia after protracted negotiations involving Cde Pumba Nangolo and Justice Petrus Damaseb.
Amongst the about eight senior executives, I was the only black in the management having being recruited from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a US government agency under the oversight of the State Department. I was the chief project specialist.
When I arrived at Namport, blacks had no say and it was similar of the old apartheid management style like that of calling the CEO of Namport ‘Hawe Overheid Komandand Generaal’ or ‘Stasie Beveel Voerder’ in the case of railway station and/ or TransNamib.
We transformed Namport to the extent that I was involved in the design of the logo and the new management structure. The rest is history. Since I was the Namport marketing manager, I worked closely with Mr Francois Uys, the TransNamib CEO and his brother Dirky Uys, who was the marketing manager.
I had the task of convincing them that we, meaning Namport and TransNamib, had to work together and we signed an MoU agreeing that we should form a transport promotion company but must get guarantees for cargo from Namibian importers and exporters. Since the proposal of putting up an intermodal but not merged transportation promotion entity came from Namport, I was charged with responsibility to seek the collaboration of local importers and exporters, freight hauling entities and regional import/exporters.
I realised that they wanted me to fail but I took the tactical move and enlisted my friends Anthony Raw and Eddie Hannabus, the port engineer and cargo manager respectively who were the friendliest and most accommodating to me and not hostile to new ideas at that time.
As a result, the Walvis Bay Corridor Group was established and housed in Namport in Walvis Bay that was during its infancy. My task was now to get the following main products from Sadc countries to use Walvis Bay as a preferred port of call: Namibian meat being exported through Cape Town Harbour; Zambian and DRC Copper. In this regard former President of Zambia, Fredrick Chiluba was brought to Walvis Bay by our Founding Father Dr Sam Nujoma to inspect the port facilities.
Our main competitor was TanZam or the Tazara Railway Line; Zimbabwe tobacco and: Containers from City Deep in Johannesburg. Now why the fundamentals cannot be merged: Since we took over Namport at that early stage, we took the informed decision that we are not going to make sudden changes in management or rock the boat.
The players in this decision making process were Dr. Shipoh, Dr. Frieda Williams and later Theo Mberirua. The reasons were simple; we had no knowledge or understanding on how ports operate. That worked and the rest is history. TransNamib: here, there were completely many unfortunate events that brought this entity to almost total destruction: The late Hampie Plichta, having had a competing interest with TransNamib convinced our leaders, first to get rid of Francois Uyis and company and our leaders listened and rewarded him with the job of Minister of Transport in the Cabinet. Since Francois Uys saw that he has no future at TransNamib and consequently in Namibia, he created competing businesses and having intimate knowledge of clients of TransNamib took away all lucrative business from TransNamib. With Hampie Plichta now in full control, TransNamib started to invest in non-core business such as Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Centre. I am talking about millions here. All the intermediary small inspection stations along the main arteries were removed. Historically, these small stations would do all inspection work whether there is rain or no rain and if defects are found, will immediately be repaired on spot. That is the main reason, but not the only one, that we have incidents of trains derailing at a chronic rate. Under Hampie, some long distance sleeping coaches were removed and you have to sit in a bus-like carriage for over eight to 12 hours until you reach your destination. That’s why TransNamib lost big time on passenger business. Lastly, but not least on TransNamib, they brought in this so called ‘Onghulumbashe’ with too much fanfare which, in my opinion the money that was supposed to be channelled towards urgent transport needs was wasted on this project. TransNamib’s income must mostly come from cargo movement and not from passenger business unless you have fast moving trains. One important link and biggest mistake made at TransNamib, was the transfer of the maintenance facility from Usakos to Windhoek. Just, think about time lost by sending engineers and technicians from Windhoek to fix a problem between Swakopmund and Usakos. Finally on TransNamib, they don’t even have the fairest idea of their inventory and value of those assets. If even a Public Private Partnership (PPP) should be initiated what is the value of the company? The reasons why these two entities cannot be merged are simple: Namport is run on sound business principles to the extent that they are ISO accredited and compliant while TransNamib is not.
Should such a merger take place as suggested, Namport will lose business because intermodal transport once put under one roof means the whole supply chain must be ISO compliant as per international ISO Standards. Namport will subsidise TransNamib to their bone marrow until they will get technically bankrupt. It is the question of one cow, after over grazing it’s portion of grazing plot, wants to move on to the other cow’s greener portion. If a merger should take place, we can forget boasting about safety, efficiency and quick turn-around times internationally in Namport’s and WCG marketing strategies.
How would you boast about such if you are merged and one part cannot deliver? I can guarantee you that the whole merged group will be sued by virtue of International Chamber of Commerce Rules and the laws of United Kingdom will apply. Intermodal business is a serious business internationally.
By illustration, imagine the following scenario of a merged entity: a ship docks at Walvis Bay port to load manganese and the other division of Namport is to bring the manganese to the port but they fail to do that. The ship owner will sue the company as a whole. That is what will be the case. The management mindset of TransNamib must seriously be addressed before any merger can even be considered. For the above given reasons, and many others for which I have no space for here, any consideration of merging should for now not be considered or even entertained unless we want to be seen as a banana republic.