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Cape Town – South African Airways (SAA) brought an urgent interdict in the early hours of Tuesday morning to curb several media outlets, including Media24 of which Fin24 is a part, from publishing the contents of a leaked memo dated 6 November 2015 to the SAA board from former acting CEO Thuli Mpshe.
The memo was an internal memo prepared by the head of legal, risk and compliance at SAA, Ursula Fikelepi, to the board of the airline.
The interdict was too late to stop Business Day newspaper from publishing the article in its print edition on Tuesday morning, but the respondents – BDFM Publishers, Moneyweb Holdings and Media24 Holding – were ordered to “remove all references to the opinion including all or any of the contents of the opinion that has already been published on the internet and social media”.
Fin24’s sister publication City Press published an article referring to the contents of the memo on Sunday already, but it has since been edited to comply with the court order.
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In SAA’s court papers, the airline argues that the memo in question is “legal advice that is privileged from disclosure” and should therefore not be published.
In an affidavit to halt publishing the memo’s contents, Fikelepi explains that she was requested by exco on 29 October to provide a legal opinion to the SAA board.
Her advice, which was “sought in confidence”, related to the legal risks and implications resulting from correspondence between SAA and Airbus GIE.
The correspondence, dated 2 and 26 October 2015, related to a potential dispute between SAA and Airbus over a transaction related to the purchase and swop of Airbus aircraft.
She describes the memo as “highly confidential information of a very sensitive nature”, which could have “the potential of causing real and serious reputational and financial damage to the applicant and the government of the RSA”.
Mpshe, who held the CEO position on a temporary basis for less than four months, was last week replaced by Musa Zwane, former head of the state-owned carrier’s maintenance unit.
Zwane is the seventh permanent or acting CEO at SAA in less than four years, if Nico Bezuidenhout’s two stints in the position are counted separately. Mpshe replaced Bezuidenhout when he returned to his role as head of the company’s low-cost unit Mango.
Andrew Trench, editor-in-chief of 24.com, said the group believes that the material which is subject to the court’s gagging order is of profound public interest to taxpayers who ultimately fund SAA’s continued existence.
“We are of the opinion that this interim order will not be made final and we will oppose any move to make that so.”
Media Statement from Finance Ministry
The Minister of Finance has noted recent media reports about developments at SAA. Media reports about the position of the National Treasury and the Minister on the Airbus swap transaction are premature. SAA last week submitted a section 54 application to the Minister, to restructure the Airbus deal.
The National Treasury’s Fiscal Liabilities Committee is currently studying the application and will make recommendations to the Minister in due course. A decision is yet to be made on the application. The Minister will be looking for a deal that benefits the airline financially, or one that does not leave SAA in a worse-off position.
The Minister is also concerned about senior management movements at the airline. “Leadership stability is crucial to implementing the Long Term Turn-around Strategy so that the airline can return to financial sustainability. I have therefore requested the board to brief me on these developments and their impact on the operations of the airline,” the Minister said.
The Minister wishes to state that the board of SAA is in quorum and the process of appointing a full board is underway.
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