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Motsatsi Phyllis Difeto: In pursuit of excellence

With an impressive list of achievements to her name, Transnet General Manager: Integrated Planning and Modelling Operational Readiness, MOTSATSI PHYLLIS DIFETO, is a powerhouse and a trailblazer. She chats about grabbing every opportunity and growing and developing your career.

PHYLLIS DIFEOT is formidable; a woman at the top of her game in every way. But she emphasises how important humility, willingness to serve and authentic leadership have been in getting her to where she is today.

After graduating from the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a BProc and LLB, she moved to Johannesburg in 1996 and took the first steps in what would be an illustrious career. After nine years as a commissioner for the CCMA, Adv Phyllis Difeto joined Transnet in 2005 in Transnet National Ports Authority’s (TNPA) HR department.

Three years later, she moved to Group HR, where she was responsible for labour relations and the development of training material. By 2012, she was part of the Group CE’s office. This, she says, is where she got experience and broader understanding of ports, rail, pipelines businesses and external stakeholder management during her time at the company.

Phyllis came full circle at the end of 2014 when she was appointed as the COO of TNPA. And in April this year, she was appointed Transnet's General Manager: Integrated Planning and Modelling Operational Readiness.


“When we introduce capital programmes, operational readiness must be on our minds right from conception to implementation," she says of her new role. "I am out of my comfort zone now. I must model operational readiness to bring about capital execution improvements in our organisation. The business is there and the job is there, I must just make sure I provide the tools for the organisation to make OR a reality."

Making it work is exactly how Phyllis has accomplished all that she has in her time at Transnet, a list of achievements that includes completing three Masters’ degrees as well as a host of other academic achievements on leadership development.

In addition to her academic excellence, Phyllis has been recognised for her excellent work at the Global Ports Forum Awards in Dubai, where she was not only named Global Woman of the Year in Ports and Terminals, but also brought home top honours for the Port of Richards Bay, which won the award for Africa’s Port/ Terminal of the Year, as well as Richards Bay Coal Terminal, which was the winner of the Bulk Logistics Port Terminal of the Year.

In addition, the Qualification Review Board certified her paper on the Development of Liquid Bulk Facility in the Port of Richards Bay which earned Phyllis a Certified Global Port Manager Award.

For Phyllis, being recognised at these awards was a shining moment for Transnet on global platform as it was not only her work in her particular role that was taken into account. “They considered everything I do over and above my job for the successful implementation of Transnet’s strategy,” she says.

That list includes her roles as Senior Manager for Transnet National Ports Authority, Group HR/ER, strategic support provided as Executive Manager and General Manager: Office of the Group CE, Transnet SOC Ltd.

If the demands of these positions weren’t enough to keep her busy, Phyllis has also been appointed as the Councillor for the South African Council for the Quantity Surveying Professions by the Minister of Public Works as well as being nominated as the Chairperson for Human Resources Committee, reporting to Council Exco.

Adding to this already long list of responsibilities, she has also been appointed by the Minister of Trade and Industry to serve as a Member of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Advisory Board, advising the Minister on SEZ designation.

She is also the Chairperson for the SEZ Technical Advisory Committee, a subcommittee of the SEZ Advisory Board that scrutinizes and evaluates SEZ designations application for recommendation to the SEZ Advisory Board. For two-terms, Phyllis has been the Chairperson for PMAESA Operations, Marine Protection, Safety & Security Committee, a Sub-Committee of the PMAESA Board.


Despite the demands of her career, Phyllis who is a mother to three boys, manages to balance her work schedule, a busy family and her spirituality, and still finds time to unwind, even when she was still studying. “Marriage, children, work and study responsibilities all at the same time demand my attention,” she says.

She maintains that being able to stretch herself in so many directions was possible because of the support of her spouse, the boys and other women in her teams. “It’s not easy. From the working environment to family responsibilities, the changes in the job and the challenges that we go through, you always need somebody that you can talk to and get advice”.

“It’s been a very, very hectic job for three years. I was mostly away from home, visiting ports or travelling outside of the country. This was made possible through the Almighty, understanding of my family and support from my Office, which I really appreciate.”

While her career and academics have taken centre stage for a while, Phyllis says that she is looking forward to being able to spend more time with her family. “Now that I am not travelling as much for work, I have more time to spend with them."

Source: Transnet

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