As the government says it is investigating whether the apparent cyber attack on Transnet on Thursday is linked to the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, the National Transportation Union (Untu) called on President Cyril Ramaphosa “to ask all law enforcement authorities to take decisive action ”to protect the state-run logistics and port operator.
Late Thursday night, the websites of Transnet and its divisions were still offline, highlighting the extent of the group-wide IT outage, which caused trucking delays at the Port of Durban, the port busiest container in sub-Saharan Africa.
The vital operating system of Transnet’s Navis container terminal was also offline due to the outage, affecting operations not only in Durban but also in the port of Cape Town.
“Currently, we are treating the cyberattack on Transnet as an unrelated event,” Acting Presidential Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said in a briefing Thursday evening.
“But we are investigating, and when information comes to light, we will confirm or deny whether the incident is related [to the unrest], “she added.
The Transnet group published a press release at around noon on Thursday confirming that it “was experiencing disturbances” on its “computer network”. He did not mention if it was related to a cyber attack.
Transnet “must be protected”
In a statement released following the incident, Untu said Transnet is “one of the few financially viable state enterprises in South Africa” and must be protected against sabotage, vandalism and crime.
“Transnet has had to suffer many setbacks due to ineffective support from other key players over the past year, which has hampered its leaders’ goals of restoring Transnet to the rank of the leading rail and logistics entity in Africa”, said Untu general secretary Steve Harris.
“In the last shot [on Thursday], Transnet’s computer systems came to a halt after being allegedly hacked overnight during a cyberattack.
“Transnet sent a statement to employees explaining that it had to shut down some of its computer applications to identify the source of the problem. All operations had to continue to use manual systems, resulting in delays. This comes despite the fact that Transnet goes to great lengths to protect its internal systems from hackers, ”said Harris.
Trucks currently parked in the port of Durban. Some reports suggest that Transnet suffered a hack leading to the closure of port terminals in South Africa. Information on @SABCNetwork at #SABCNews. pic.twitter.com/VXcSWMwnGV
– Siphumelele Zondi (@SZondi) July 22, 2021
The computer outage could not have come at a worse time for Transnet, after the riots and unrest last week in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.
The unrest is now labeled a “failed insurgency” which has largely affected KwaZulu-Natal, including the halt of operations at the ports of Durban and Richards Bay.
While operations have since resumed, Thursday’s cyberattack delayed several Transnet operations.
Untu noted in his statement that the latest incident comes as “Transnet is slowly recovering from what Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula described to UK broadcaster BBC as a ‘coup’ – vandalism and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu -Natal ”.
“The minister admitted to the BBC that the South African government” has probably taken longer than we were supposed to “to respond to the serious situation,” he added.
According to Harris, Transnet reported suffering a loss of more than R259 million due to the impact of the unrest at the ports of Richards Bay and Durban.
“Transnet employees were unable to report to work due to the dangerous situation, road closures and fuel shortages. This has resulted in a backlog in the movement of goods in and out of ports, ”he said.
“It is heartbreaking that our ports and rail infrastructure, where employees have continued to put their lives at risk throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure that goods, food and cargo reach their destinations and for sustaining the economy, have been severely affected by the criminal conduct of a few lawless individuals, ”added Harris.
“Untu once again calls on President Ramaphosa and Police Minister Bheki Cele to explain to South Africans why there is no adequate law enforcement in the transport sector, especially in rail transport , port, truck and taxis.
“President Ramaphosa is failing in his duty to hold Mbalula accountable for the negative impact on the South African economy due to the ongoing disruptions in various sectors of the transport industry.”