"The board worked tirelessly to find a suitable leader who will lead by example and stabilise the internal environment while working towards ensuring good corporate governance within the airline," the board's acting chairperson Dudu Myeni said.
"Kalawe will also lead South African Airways, as a strategic national asset, towards contributing to the socio-economic development of the country and the continent."
The appointment came after Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba challenged South African Airways (SAA)'s board to improve the airline's governance.
Kalawe began his career at Eskom, before joining Nestle South Africa for a few years, and then returning to Eskom for three years.
Kalawe also worked at the Airports Company South Africa for six years before leading Total Facilities Management Company as chief operating officer, and Denel as chief executive.
After concluding his role as country managing director of the Compass Group for five years, and more recently as executive chairperson, Kalawe would join SAA in the next few weeks.
Myeni thanked Nico Bezuidenhout for acting as chief executive over the past few months.
Stability and cohesion
"We are also sincerely grateful for the incredible work that Mr Bezuidenhout has done towards the development and timely submission of the airline's first ever long-term turn-around strategy."
Last month, Gigaba removed suspended SAA Vuyisile Kona from the airline's board. Gigaba said he considered it prudent and in the interests of SAA that there be stability and cohesion in its leadership.
The relationship between the board and Kona had deteriorated to a point where it would not be possible for him to lead or function optimally, either as a member or board chairperson.
SAA put Kona on precautionary suspension in February. The board said the move was based on allegations which it had a fiduciary duty to investigate.
Mango chairperson Bezuidenhout was then called to act as SAA chief executive. A number of SAA board members, including chairperson Cheryl Carolus, unexpectedly quit last year before the annual general meeting in October, when their term was due to end.
Meanwhile, BDLive reported that the department of public enterprises is considering the "immediate integration" of all of the state’s aviation assets into a single company that will act as a holding company, according to a statement inadvertently released to the media on Friday.
The department has previously said it may consider the merging of SAA, South African Express and SAA’s low-cost subsidiary Mango as a way to cut costs from its loss-making airline businesses.
A rescue plan to turnaround the operations of SAA, which is surviving on a R5-billion two-year guarantee from the treasury, has been in the making since January and will be submitted by Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba to Cabinet in about a month.
The plan, known as the long term turnaround strategy (LTTS), is meant to address the underlying problems within the airline which include replacing its inefficient long haul fleet, reworking its route network and establishing new alliances with airlines that are outside of its existing programme with Star Alliance to improve the reach of its operations without having to provide the feeder service.
The department inadvertently sent an incompletely edited copy of Mr Gigaba’s speech that was delivered on Friday to announce the appointment of Kalawe as the chief executive designate of SAA. The e-mail was recalled. – Additional reporting by Sapa