Why I fly SAA – Paul O’Sullivan

South African Airways is deep in trouble following the plundering of its finances and a crippling strike, and it has been waiting for the pledged cash injection of R2bn from the Government as part of the terms of its bankruptcy protection after it was placed in business rescue. At the end of last week, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni indicated in Davos that the Treasury was still working ‘feverishly’ on a solution. In the meantime, many ordinary South Africans and businesspeople are turning to other airlines when they fly as they are not sure whether the flight that they have booked will actually leave. This is despite the fact that SAA has a positive image and flyers often comment on how friendly the staff are. It is easy to dismiss SAA as another failed state-owned enterprise and to point to the history of many other airlines that disappeared last year, including Thomas Cook in the UK, Jet Airways in India and Ireland’s WOW. Other big airlines that hit the deck in the past were Sabena, PanAm and AnsettAustralia. Hong Kong Airlines received a cash injection in December to save it from going under. Paul O’Sullivan digs into the history of SAA that is 86 years old 1 February this year and describes it as a proud airline which was one of the first to operate jet aircraft and comments on how it broke world records for long distance flying. Despite unhappy memories of how he was dragged off an SAA flight and tortured for upsetting the former chair of SAA Dudu Myeni; he remains a fierce supporter of SAA and urges other flyers to encourage SAA staff. – Linda van Tilburg

SAA is 86 years old – down but not out

By Paul O’Sullivan*

On 1 February 1934 a new airline was born, when the South African government took over the assets and liabilities of Union Airways, which up until then only operated as an air mail service. The government did a stock take and they found they had 40 staff members and seven aircraft, including four Junkers F13s, one de Havilland Gypsy Moth, a de Havilland Puss Moth and a Junkers A50. The new airline was named South African Airways.

Its first passenger flights started a few months later, with three flights a week between Johannesburg and Durban and a weekly flight between East London and Port Elizabeth. A year later SAA absorbed South West African Airways, its staff and a few aircraft, before establishing its headquarters at Rand Airport. Once established at Rand Airport, it began operating flights that originated at Rand and went to Kimberley, Beaufort West and on to Cape Town. In 1937, SAA began operating to Lusaka, with stops in Pietersburg, and also to Bulawayo and Livingstone.

When World War II broke out, the aircraft and staff of SAA were transferred to the South African Air Force (SAAF), for the duration of the war. After the war, the SAAF gradually released staff and aircraft back to SAA and it started operating again, then from its new headquarters at Palmietfontein, Johannesburg, which was near Katlehong.

In 1945, SAA operated its first true intercontinental service, known as the ‘Springbok Service’ which took three days to fly from Palmietfontein via Nairobi, Khartoum, Cairo and on to Hurn Airport near Bournemouth. Heathrow Airport had not even been though of by 1945. Night stops were in Nairobi and Cairo with a total time in the air of 34 hours. The flights generally flew in what was termed visual flight conditions, and most often below the clouds, as none of the aircraft were pressurised. Bad weather often delayed the flights.

SAA was one of the first airlines to operate jet aircraft and collaborated with BOAC [British Overseas Airways Corporation] on the first passenger jet service in the world in 1952, flying de Havilland Comets from London (Heathrow was now operating) to Johannesburg’s Jan Smuts Airport, now known as OR Tambo International. Due to technical problems with the Comet, SAA changed to Boeing 707’s and often ran the longest non-stop flights in the world.

SAA would later break record after record, with non-stop flights including New York to Johannesburg and the longest flight ever at that time for a passenger jet, to deliver its first Boeing 747, from Seattle on the West Coast of America to Cape Town.

In 2011, SAA made a profit of R800m, moved 8 million passengers a year, had 61 aircraft, flew to 50 destinations world-wide and had a little over 10,000 staff.

It was ripe for plunder and along came Dudu Myeni, Jacob Zuma’s ‘friend’ and mother of one of Zuma’s many sons and fellow accomplice, Thalente Myeni, a get-rich quick kid with an infamous daddy and mummy.

Today, SAA is in business rescue, due to massive fraud and corruption which has the potential to not only destroy an 86-year-old company, but to wipe out 10,000 jobs, which will surely happen without shareholder support and without passenger confidence.

Read also: Open letter: This is how we fix SAA

It is NOT the fault of any of the hard working staff at SAA, that the airline is on its knees. Why should they be punished for what they didn’t do?

We can thank erstwhile chairman, Dudu Myeni and her criminal accomplices for that. We can also thank the erstwhile board members that watched, or looked the other way while Zuma’s mistress, with primary school teacher qualifications, dipped her dirty hands in the SAA cookie jar and brought a once great airline to its knees.

On 7 November 2014, I wrote to Dudu Myeni and stated the following to her:

My Lifetime Platinum Card

I am writing to you now, because I believe my Lifetime Platinum Card is at risk. For your information, it took me seven years and a lot of money to get it. A lot of money to me, but not a lot to someone like you, that’s getting spoon-fed by taxpayers like me.

I believe my Lifetime Platinum Card is at risk because you are driving a once fine airline into the ground. I will not allow that to continue. As a significant taxpayer, I believe I have a duty to stop what you are doing.

I will rise to the challenge and will use all lawful means to stop you. The fight begins here, today.

I am formally declaring you to be ‘on my radar screen’.

My mail had no effect and Myeni and her accomplices carried on with their crimes. In March 2015, January 2016 and March 2016, I opened three separate criminal dockets against Myeni, not one of which has ever been properly investigated.

In April 2016, while on my way to London, I was dragged off a plane in front of my crying children, assaulted, taken away in handcuffs and detained and tortured for three days. Major General Prince Mokotedi, a self-proclaimed fan of Jacob Zuma, who had been unlawfully parachuted into his position a few weeks earlier by a corrupt head of the Hawks and a corrupt Minister of Police, two years after resigning in the face of a dismissal from the NPA, poked his finger in my chest after my unlawful arrest, while my hands were cuffed tightly behind my back and said ‘You don’t know how badly you’ve upset Dudu Myeni’. He went on to tell me that I would spend the rest of my life in prison. Wow!

It took me three years, a big chunk of my life savings and a lot of legal support from AfriForum’s lawyers Hurter Spies, to finally kill off all of the 56 false charges brought against me.

Today, Mokotedi has been sidelined out of the Hawks, because he was illegally appointed in the first place by a corrupt Berning Ntlemeza, who himself was demoted and dismissed on the same day. Myeni was finally shown the door four years after I called her out for her crimes. Following Myeni’s eventual dismissal from SAA, I opened a fourth docket against her and her then side-kick, Nick Linnel, for ‘persuading’ (if that’s the right word to use) then Eskom Board Chairman Zola Tsotsi to suspend and/or dismiss key staff to make way for the entry of corrupt double-act Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh, so that they give a leg-up to the Zupta crime syndicate to bring Eskom to its knees, having used Transnet to prove they were both up to the job of bankrupting Eskom.

I remain ever hopeful (but am not holding my breath) that someone at the NPA will look at the four dockets opened by Forensics for Justice and the mountains of evidence, some of which can be seen here and here and decide to charge them all for their disgraceful conduct. Not just Myeni, but Zuma and all of those that helped her as she could not destroy that airline on her own.

I hope someone at the NPA reads this.

But the future is not all doom and gloom. With an office in London, I am up and down between ten and twelve times a year.

SAA lie-flat seats and fabulous cabin service make them the obvious choice for me. From time to time I check the BA flight prices to make sure that SAA prices are fair, and they mostly are.

In the last few months, I have been most supportive and encouraging of the SAA staff who must be stressing no end, in fear of their future jobs.

The cockpit, and cabin crew are world class and can easily hold their own with the likes of BA or Virgin.

The ground crew in London always go the extra mile and it’s great to see their smiling faces when the doors open in London, or they wish you well as you fly back to Johannesburg. They are always at the gate arriving and departing.

I request all loyal SAA customers to encourage the flight and ground crews when they come into contact with them. Together we will keep the SAA staffers motivated while we get over this crisis.

I need to go up again in a couple of weeks, having already been up once in January and went through my normal price-checking routine last week. I was shocked at the way BA are cashing in on the current crisis.

Look at the examples below:

  • A return on SAA to London is R47,113 departing on 2020-02-14 and returning on 2020-02-22.
  • The same fare on BA is R103,105, a whopping increase of 119%.
  • A similar disparity applies to economy seats. I know because I flew some of my kids up after Christmas.

There cannot be a better time for South Africans to help bring our airline back to a sustainable future, by booking and flying on SAA, while saving serious money on the journey.

It is sheer madness to pay a premium of 119% to fly with BA, when we should all be supporting SAA.

After 40 years of supporting SAA, I’m certainly going to continue to book and fly SAA until the day they close the hangar doors. And not just to protect my Lifetime Platinum card.

It’s time we all started saying:

I fly SAA!

  • Paul O’Sullivan is the founder of Forensics for Justice.
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