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The headline making stories are never quite as they appear. Especially at embattled South African Airways, widely touted for closure because of its seemingly never-ending cost to taxpayers. On Friday, the axe appeared ready to fall after an instruction that all SAA staff make themselves available at 4pm. Many at Airways Park started clearing their desks.
That unprecedented directive extended to international flight crews who were told that no matter where in the world they might be, they were to gather at the appointed hour in lobbies of their hotels. When it came, this much-anticipated announcement was a gentle message of appreciation to staff for keeping their chins up. There was nothing about closing down. Or retrenchments. Or a deal. Or, indeed, anything else of any relevance.
From inside the airline, the story goes Friday’s 4pm announcement was indeed supposed to inform staff of the airline’s closure. However, Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan got wind of it. He was spotted in the building earlier in the day, his unscheduled appearance confirming the belief he stepped in to abort the process. Motivated by an appreciation that shutting down SAA would cost tens of billions in retrenchment and lease termination costs.
So if true, who made the decision to liquidate SAA? Insiders say it was the Zuma faction within the airline who were motivated by their desire to bury evidence implicating plunderers like the unlamented former chairman Dudu Myeni. Pulling the plug would deliver a double benefit: malfeasance tracks would be covered; and with almost 10,000 jobs lost, embarrassment for the Ramaphosa Administration. Crazy? Desperation can sometimes make insanity look rational.