DA calls for suspension of SAA chair Myeni – actions grounding airline

In this piece, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister of Public Enterprises Natasha Mazzone calls on Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene to suspend SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni with immediate effect. She says the close ally of President Jacob Zuma is a cadre appointment and is running a political agenda in the boardroom. The list of misdemeanours include scuppering a R2 billion equity deal acting CEO Nico Bezuidenhout had organised with Emirates Airlines. – Stuart Lowman

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by Natasha Mazzone*

I will today write to the Minister of Finance, Nhlanhla Nene, calling on him to immediately suspend the Chairperson of South African Airways (SAA) Dudu Myeni, and institute a full-scale independent investigation into Myeni’s tenure as SAA board chairperson.

Since her appointment last year, Myeni’s tenure has been riddled with controversy, as she has been instrumental in the airline’s continuous downward spiral. She presides over an entity of state with a budget of R36.8 billion funded by tax-payer money, while turning the board members against each other and sowing mistrust internally.

There is a plethora of prima facie evidence to warrant her immediate suspension, including the following:

  • It was reported this week that Myeni is selling face time with President Zuma through her private consulting company, Dudu Myeni Consulting. An investigation must assess whether the benefits received constitute a conflict of interest with her public roles as SAA chairperson and head of the Jacob Zuma Foundation;
  • SAA acting CEO, Nico Bezuidenhout, publically stated that he has no doubt Myeni was sent to SAA to call off the deal SAA had struck with Emirates Airlines – an equity partnership agreement which would have seen more than R2 billion injected into the cash strapped entity;
  • Last month Myeni also allegedly told both Bezuidenhout and SAA CFO, Wolf Meyer, that she did not trust them, with a board meeting being held in the presence of bodyguards who searched board members on entry, confiscating notes and cellphones; and
  • Last week SAA chief strategist, Barry Parsons, tendered his resignation due to the dysfunctional nature of the SAA board which Myeni heads.

It is clear that Myeni is running a tight political agenda from the SAA boardroom. Like her close comrade Jacob Zuma, Myeni will flout the rules wherever she deems it necessary.

In addition to this, Myeni’s close ties to President Zuma, including her role as the executive chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation, makes her a prime example of cadre deployment at the highest level.

The existence of this overwhelming evidence and the increasing levels of mistrust with SAA places the onus on Minister Nene to act now and immediately suspend Myeni in order to restore some sense of formality before the airline is forced to shut its doors.

Minister Nene should know better than any other minister in cabinet what damage the current situation at SAA is doing to the national fiscus. He cannot in good conscience now turn a blind eye on the fact that Ms Myeni is running this SOE into the ground, at a cost of billions of rands to the taxpayer.

If he fails to suspend Myeni and launch an investigation we will be left with no option but to believe that the political interference at SAA has reached the point of no return.

* Natasha Mazzone is the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises