Prasa’s party train
Axed Group CEO Lucky Montana denies that any of the activities captured in these time-stamped photos reflect reality
These pictures show axed Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) Group CEO Lucky Montana entertaining a group of women on a luxurious train ride as part of a Cape Town weekend getaway at a cost of R170 000 to taxpayers. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her report into the state rail agency, titled Derailed, this week in which she gave Montana “the benefit of the doubt” into allegations that he undertook an “alleged improper Blue Train trip to Cape Town” between September 24 and 27 in 2009.
This week, Montana told Gauteng radio station Power FM: “I’ve said to the Public Protector, I have never travelled with these women on the Blue Train, unless we are talking a different trip. But if there is an allegation that Lucky Montana travelled on the Blue Train with 10 women, it’s false, and that is why I thought the Public Protector will dismiss that particular issue. Instead, she said she’s putting it to another investigation.”
The pictures show that Montana travelled on Prasa subsidiary Shosholoza Meyl’s Premier Classe train, not the Blue Train, which is owned by fellow parastatal Transnet. Montana, however, also denies that he was on this other train.
A whistle-blower previously employed by Prasa, who spoke on condition his name not be published, told City Press Montana and the women’s overnight train ride came with massages, six-course meals and sparkling wine. The whistle-blower alleged that Montana personally checked the women into the Premier Classe Train in Joburg on Thursday, September 24 2009.
Premier Classe comes complete with gowns, bedding, toiletries and phones for ordering room service to your cabin. At current rates, a single adult ticket from Joburg to Cape Town costs R3 120.
“These ladies were not on the passenger manifest, meaning they were, in effect, sneaked on to the train,” the whistle-blower said. “On board the train, they were pampered throughout. They enjoyed bubbly and massages, as well as six-course meals. Upon arrival in Cape Town, Montana checked them out of the train himself and booked them into a hotel in Camps Bay. The ladies were then flown back home from Cape Town.”
Prasa regularly invites “stakeholders” in the tourism and hospitality industries on trips in Premier Classe, notably to the Cape Town Jazz Festival every April.
The whistle-blower said that, at the time, Montana told staff the women were “tourism stakeholders” from the Rustenburg area.
When asked for comment on the train trip yesterday, Montana denied that he “travelled to Cape Town with 10 female companions on either the Blue Train or the Premier Classes”.
“Kindly contact those who made the allegation of the Office of the Public Protector to clarify or substantiate,” he said.
Time-stamped photographs, however, show Montana inside the train with the women and disembarking in Cape Town. The group returned to Johannesburg on Sunday, September 27.
The photographs show Montana and some of the women at the up-market Wharfside Grill restaurant in Hout Bay. Later that evening, some of the women are pictured taking their seats on an SAA plane.
Madonsela’s report names five of the 10 women. Gwen Thabane from Rustenburg confirmed the train ride, but would not elaborate on Montana’s involvement. Also on board was Nosilela Karabo, also from Rustenburg, who told City Press the outing had been a “girls’ breakaway”. She said they met Montana as they disembarked in Cape Town, but denied spending any more time with him.
“In Cape Town, Lucky greeted one of the men who was helping us with our bags. But if there was anything else, I’m in the dark,” she said.
Also on board was Dorothy Letsoalo, a performance and risk specialist at a top mining firm. She did not respond to an invitation to comment.
Madonsela’s report states: “The evidence reveals that the trip of September 2009 was arranged by the office of the Group CEO using Prasa’s official travel agency.”
“However, the evidence obtained from SAA indicates the travelling costs in respect of the persons referred to by the complainant were paid for in cash.”
Madonsela said: “I have not been provided with convincing evidence to conclude that [the] complainant’s allegation is corroborated and proved.
“In the absence of such evidence, I am inclined to afford Mr Montana the benefit of the doubt,” she concluded.
Yesterday, the Public Protector’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, told City Press their report quoted the complainant, who appeared to have made the mistake about the trip being taken on the Blue Train.
Segalwe said they hoped to “clarify this particular issue in our follow-up report, set to appear in six months’ time”.
Mabe in trouble
Meanwhile, Pule Mabe, an ANC MP and ANC Youth League leadership contender, may face more trouble over his business dealings when Parliament’s ethics committee considers his case.
Madonsela found that Mabe’s company, KG Media, was “improperly” appointed to produce Prasa’s in-house Hambanathi Magazine in a six-year deal worth more than R33 million, or R465 669.75 a month.
Mabe’s directorship in the company, whose contracts with Prasa were found to be unlawful and a flagrant contravention of a number of laws, was not declared in the register of members’ interests published by Parliament in September last year. A company search reveals Mabe only resigned his directorship on May 11.
Mabe’s directorship goes against the code of conduct for MPs adopted last year, and bars MPs and their immediate families from doing business with the state.
But Mabe, who became an MP in May last year, only disclosed his shares in the company and not his directorship, as required.
Amos Masondo, co-chairperson of the joint committee on ethics and members’ interests, said the committee would study the Public Protector’s report “quite carefully” before deciding what action to take.
The committee is scheduled to meet before the end of next week, but Masondo could not say whether the Mabe matter would be discussed.
Moloto Mothapo, the spokesperson for ANC chief whip Stone Sizani, told City Press Sizani would soon meet Mabe to discuss “his implication” in the report.
Mabe did not respond to requests for comment.
Prasa’s woes are continuing in the aftermath of the derailment of an 11-carriage Shosholoza Meyl train, which was pulled by one of their controversial new Afro 4000 locomotives, two weeks ago.
The locomotives, it appears, only “speak” Spanish – a problem now hampering an investigation into the accident in the Northern Cape by the Railway Safety Regulator.
On Friday, the regulator released a preliminary investigation report into the incident, which found: “[The] downloaded data from the locomotive were in Spanish.”
The Afro 4000 trains, which Rapport revealed were too tall for the country’s railway system, were made in Spain.
“The investigators wanted to highlight that the data were in Spanish rather than English, and were not analysed. The in-depth investigation will deal with this issue further,” said the Railway Safety Regulator’s Babalwa Mpendu. “When we continue our inquiry, we will ask why [the data] were in Spanish.”
The regulator has had to rely on information other than that captured by the locomotive’s own computer.
“The speed [at which the train was travelling before the derailment] was not extracted from the locomotive data logger, but was taken from the Centralised Traffic Control office,” said Mpendu.
Sources with first-hand knowledge of the contract Prasa awarded to buy 70 locomotives, worth R3.5 billion, from Spanish manufacturer Vossloh Espana say it is unheard of to buy locomotives with computer systems that don’t work in English.
“Even the locomotives we bought from Japanese manufacturer Mitsui were custom-programmed in English,” a source told City Press’ sister paper, Rapport.
A locomotive’s data logger performs a similar function to a plane’s flight recorder, or “black box”, and captures vital information about the conditions that may have caused an accident.
Another railway expert who has worked on previous accident investigations says the data are vital and could be used in court cases and other legal proceedings after an accident.
“The moment you start having to translate the information from the source language into another language, you could potentially jeopardise the data’s integrity,” said the source.
A locomotive’s on-board computer also highlights any mechanical problems.
“Are we going to teach our technicians Spanish, or are we going to have to bring Spanish technicians to South Africa each time the Afro 4000s need attention?” one Prasa source told Rapport.
Technicians from Vossloh Espana are now in the country to address mechanical problems already experienced by two of the 13 Afro 4000s that have been delivered so far.
Despite the regulator’s report, Prasa yesterday denied that the Afro 4000s’ computer systems were in Spanish.
“All computer programmes on the Afro 4000 are in English, hence the DDU [driver display unit] also displays the driver information in English,” Prasa stated in an email.
“The locomotive data are in English. There’s therefore no need for Prasa to make use of translators, as our drivers and technicians are conversant with the English language.”
PARTY PLEASER Lucky Montana