While government says it is investigating whether the apparent cyber attack on Transnet on Thursday is related to recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, the United National Transport Union (Untu) has appealed to President Cyril Ramaphosa “to instruct all law enforcement authorities to take decisive action” to protect the state-run logistics and port operator.
On Friday morning 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 – sub-Saharan Africa’s busiest container port.
However, in an update on the situation, Transnet said in a statement issued around midday on Friday, that it had “identified and isolated the source of the disruption to its IT systems”.
It added that “technical teams continue to work around the clock to ensure that the impact remains minimal.”
Transnet’s vital Navis container terminal operating system remains offline due to the outage, affecting operations not only in Durban but also in the Port of Cape Town. However, the group is using manuals systems to ensure operations continue.
“Currently we are treating the cyber attack on Transnet as an unrelated event,” acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said in a briefing late on Thursday.
“But we are investigating, and when information comes to the fore, we’ll either confirm or dispel whether the incident is related [to the unrest],” she added.
Transnet Group issued a statement around midday on Thursday confirming that it was “experiencing disruption” on its “IT network”. It made no mention of whether this was related to a cyber attack.
Transnet ‘needs to be protected’
In a statement issued following the incident, Untu said Transnet is “one of the few financially viable state-owned enterprises in South Africa” and needs to be protected from sabotage, vandalism, and criminality.
“Transnet had to endure numerous setbacks due to the inefficient support from other key role players over the past year which has hampered the goals of its executives to restore Transnet to the leading rail and logistics entity in Africa,” said Untu general secretary Steve Harris.
“In the latest blow [on Thursday], the information technology systems of Transnet shut down after it had been allegedly hacked overnight in a cyber attack.
“Transnet sent out a statement to employees to explain it had to shut down some of its IT applications to identify the source of the problem. All operations had to continue using manual systems which results in delays. This comes despite Transnet going to great lengths to protect its internal systems from hackers,” said Harris.
Trucks currently parked at the Durban Harbour right now. Some reports suggest that Transnet has suffered a cyber hack resulting in the shutdown of South Africa's port terminals. Info on @SABCNetwork on #SABCNews. pic.twitter.com/VXcSWMwnGV
— Siphumelele Zondi (@SZondi) July 22, 2021
The IT outage could not have come at a worse time for Transnet, after last week’s riots and unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.
The unrest is now being referred to as a “failed insurrection” which affected largely KwaZulu-Natal, including halting operations at both the ports of Durban and Richards Bay.
While operations have since recommenced, Thursday’s cyber attack caused delays in several of Transnet’s operations.
Untu noted in its statement that the latest incident comes while “Transnet is slowly still recovering from what Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula described to British broadcaster BBC as a ‘coup’ – the vandalism and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal”.
“The minister admitted to the BBC that the South African Government ‘probably took longer than we were supposed to’ to respond to the severe situation,” it further pointed out.
According to Harris, Transnet reported that it had suffered 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 for work due to the dangerous situation, road closures and fuel shortages. This resulted in a backlog in the moving of goods in and out of the ports,” he said.
“It is heart-breaking that our ports and rail infrastructure, where employees have continued to place their lives in danger throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure that goods, foods and commodities reach its destinations and to keep the economy going, has been so severely impacted by the criminal conduct of a few lawless individuals,” added Harris.
“Untu once again appeals to President Ramaphosa and Police Minister Bheki Cele to explain to South Africans why there is an absence of adequate law enforcement in the transport sector, specifically in the rail, ports, trucks, and taxi environments.
“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 the various sectors of the transport industry.”