SAA’s ninth turnaround plan in 13 years is going to be driven and managed by a team of specialist consultants, a move that is likely to cost the crippled national carrier even more money it doesn’t have.
This week SAA CEO Monwabisi Kalawe s a i d br i nging i n c hange specialists was an effort to get the airline on track. A weary sounding Kalawe said that the minister of public enterprises Lynne Brown was cracking the whip and wanted the plan “implemented yesterday”. He admitted that his job was undoubtedly one of the toughest in the country.
Brown, who was given a hospital pass when she took over from Malusi Gigaba in June, oversaw the resignation of six board members in October.
Astonishingly though, chairwoman Dudu Myeni was kept on despite t he board ’s harsh criticism of her performance in May. In leaked minutes of a board meeting – which she refused to attend – members accused her of being negligent and derelict in her duties, and demanded that she be removed from her post.
In addition to Kalawe and Myeni, CFO Wolf Meyer and non-executive director Yakhe Kwinana are some of those which Brown has chosen to keep on to try to stabilise the most recent leadership mess at the national carrier. In addition, John Tambi and Anthony Dixon were appointed in a last-ditch effort to get Operation Gaining Altitude to the end of the runway. Tambi has extensive experience in project management and an engineering specialisation in the transport sector, while Dixon brings 29 years of experience in accounting and auditing to the board.
It i s going t o be a mammoth task: years of walkouts, backbiting, i nternecine f ighting and dramatic resignations have wracked the national carrier as it unswervingly haemorrhages cash and has to be bailed out by the ‘shareholder’– ultimately, the taxpayer.
SAA and its subsidiary, South African Express, are technically insolvent. The department of public enterprises (DPE) has held back the annual f inancial statements of both airlines until there is certainty that they are not going bankrupt. This cannot happen unless they get more financial support.
Last year the state pledged R5bn of taxpayers’ money to SAA and R539m to SA Express. For the third year in a row neither airline has been able to produce its financials on time.
Gigaba, who oversaw the initial phases of the turnaround, allowed lossmaking routes such as Buenos Aires to be cut, but clung to the Beijing route, which currently costs the airline R300m a year. In January, Gigaba also put the brakes on orders for R60bn worth of fuel-efficient aircraft, saying that industrialisation and localisation for South Africa needed to be ensured. “There must be benefits for our country,” Gigaba said when he made