SAA CEO locked out as spat with board escalates

South African Airways (SAA) chief executive Mnwabisi Kalawe was greeted by locked doors when he reported for duty at his Kempton Park office on Wednesday and Thursday, the Mail & Guardian has established.

This comes as tensions between Kalawe and SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni reached boiling point. Myeni, who was retained as SAA chair after Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown axed the majority of board members aligned to her predecessor Malusi Gigaba, is said to be driving the campaign to oust Kalawe from his position.

Myeni had previously asked the Auditor General to investigate Kalawe in relation to several allegations, including fuel procurement irregularities and negotiating to buy a stake in the insolvent Senegal Airlines- without the board’s knowledge.

But Gigaba and board of directors at SAA stood firmly behind Kalawe, saying they had full confidence in him. Gigaba has since been redeployed from the Public Enterprise portfolio to Home Affairs, while all board of directors sympathetic to Kalawe were axed and others resigned.

Myeni is also the chair of the Jacob Zuma Foundation and is considered to be personally close to the president..

In January this year, six non-executive directors – all Gigaba appointees – submitted a letter to the then minister expressing “major dissatisfaction” with Myeni’s leadership of the board.

According to a Business Day report, the letter also complained that Myeni allegedly cancelled board meetings that were meant to deal with the acquisition of new wide-bodied aircraft to serve SAA’s long haul routes.

The six board members complained that this meant SAA had lost delivery slots for new fuel-efficient aircraft and their planned delivery from 2016 would be delayed.

Kalawe confirmed to the M&G on Thursday night he was locked out of his office. He said he was aware of the rumours about the new board’s intentions to suspend him. “I don’t know what I am accused of, but this is related to the previous allegations against me, I have responded to each and every one of those [allegations],” said Kalawe.

He said he was not worried, as he knows he did nothing wrong. “I am not panicked at all because I did nothing wrong. I am clean. I have not taken money from anybody,” said Kalawe.

He said he would meet Minster Brown next week to discuss developments at SAA. Myeni had not responded to messages left on her cellphone at the time of publishing the story.

SAA spokesperson Tlai Tlai said the board would soon make an announcement if it had taken a decision to place Kalawe on suspension. Tlali said Kalawe was currently on sick leave was expected to return to work on Monday. Additional reporting by Sam Sole.

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Matuma Letsoala
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