SAA: A des­per­ate state of af­fairs

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY TINA WEAVIND

S outh African Air­ways (SAA) al­most dou­bled its net loss for the 2014 f inan­cial year to R2.55bn from R1.17bn in 2013.

On 30 Jan­uary, Nico Bezuiden­hout, act­ing CEO of SAA, de­scribed the des­per­ate state of af­fairs at the na­tional car­rier to a group of around 100 mem­bers of the me­dia and econ­o­mists in Kempton Park.

Bezuiden­hout was made act­ing CEO in Novem­ber last year af­ter Mon­wabisi Kalawe, who had headed up the air­line since June 2013, was mys­te­ri­ously suspended. Bezuiden­hout, who is also CEO of SAA’s low-cost car­rier Mango, was brought in to ur­gently stem the f lood of cash out of the air­line’s cof­fers. His first move on tak­ing up one of the hottest seats in the coun­try was to im­ple­ment a string of emer­gency mea­sures in a ‘90 day Ac­tion Plan’.

But jaded South Africans aren’t ready to be­lieve there’s any light at the end of the tun­nel. Mis­trust has dogged the SAA ex­ec­u­tive for well over a decade and claims of po­lit­i­cal med­dling, sub­terfuge and back­stab­bing have been rife for as long as any­one can re­mem­ber. Sta­bil­ity has been for­feited by rapid changes in lead­er­ship – al­most al­ways clouded in du­bi­ous con­tro­versy.

Bezuiden­hout has acted as CEO for SAA be­fore, sand­wich­ing Kalawe’s two year-long ten­ure. Be­fore Bezuiden­hout’s f irst stint, Vuy­isile Kona had been at the helm. The for­mer chair­man was suspended in Fe­bru­ary 2013 af­ter a mere four months. He had re­placed Siza Mz­imela who stepped down in Oc­to­ber 2012 af­ter the na­tional car­rier re­ported a R1.25bn loss. Her de­par­ture came a mere 10 days af­ter the board chair, Ch­eryl Caro­lus and seven of her non-ex­ec­u­tive board mem­bers, walked out, say­ing t hat t heir re­la­tion­ship with gov­ern­ment had bro­ken down ir­re­vo­ca­bly. The sorry tale stretches years into the past.

Last week, it emerged t hat t he only air­line with a higher debt to eq­uit y t han SAA’s -13% was t he Amer­i­can Air­lines Group – which

Nico Bezuiden­hout

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