The roots of Transnet can be traced back to humble beginnings in the late 1850s

When railway transport was proposed for the harbours in the Cape and Natal. The real catalyst for the country’s railway and harbour expansion, can be attributed to the discovery of diamonds in Kimberly in 1867.

South Africa’s state railway system began when the two pioneer railway systems situated in the Cape and Natal became government property in 1872 and 1877 respectively, thus completing the relatively primitive harbours in Durban and Cape Town. Scarcely nine years after the founding of the government railways, both which were rapidly pushed to Kimberly, rumours of massive gold deposits in the Transvaal Republic were confirmed. Almost overnight, economic power had shifted from the colonial south to the republican north.

In 1910 Union was achieved, with the country’s leaders adamant that the railways and harbours should be used to unify and develop South Africa’s economy. The result – the South African Railways and Harbours administration (SAR&H) becoming a proud established arm of the government.

A mere 20 years after the establishment of Union, in 1930, South Africa had established itself as a proud and mobile nation. This achievement can be accredited to the opening of efficient mainline passenger links and an impressive network of urban and metropolitan train services.

During the 1970s it was agreed upon by the government that the SAR&H should restructure itself along defined business lines. Integral to the process was a change in the name and image of the organisation, which would appropriately reflect its new vision and mission as a successful state business enterprise. In 1981, the country’s railway, harbour, road transport, aviation and pipeline operations became known as South African Transport Services (SATS). At the same time, the enterprise was restructured into units and divisions,
with a strong emphasis on localized management.