In 2000 the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) of the South African government announced its plan to break Spoornet into separate businesses and concession them to the private-sector. Two years later, after more than eight months engagement with the railway trade unions, government accepted that this plan made no developmental, business or financial sense. What persuaded government to change its view? Why did it adopt such a flawed plan in the first place? What enabled the trade unions to engage so successfully in this case?
This paper attempts to answer these questions through a detailed account of the engagement process and an assessment of the various forces at play. The author was, and continues to be, a NALEDI adviser to the trade unions2 in their engagement with the government and management. The paper therefore constitutes an insider account, based on a 'participant observation' methodology.