Crib Notes: Who exactly is Dudu Myeni?

It’s Dudu Myeni’s way or the highway – or at least that’s the view from the long list of executives who have “resigned” from South African Airways (SAA) after Myeni became chair of the airline’s board. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has ordered SAA to get a new board, but Myeni was expected to retain her position despite many calling for her to be axed following SAA’s financial nosedive. 

On Friday September 2, after months of wrangling between treasury and the carrier,  government confirmed it had reappointed Myeni as chair.

Is she fit to lead SAA? Take a look at her CV and decide.

Name: Duduzile Cynthia Myeni

Date of birth: 29 October 1963 (52 years old)

Education:    Primary Teachers Certificate from Madadeni College

                        Secondary Teachers Diploma from Umlazi College

                        Bachelor’s degree in administration from the University of Zululand

*Myeni listed the bachelor’s degree as a qualification in SAA’s annual report in 2009, but later said that she was  “studying towards it” and still had two majors to complete.

Skills
Communication (but not so much with the national treasury)

Making good friends (he he he)

Excellent speaker, specialises in spin-doctoring (see: “studying towards it”)

Administrating money, particularly on expensive airbuses for SAA

Strong negotiator (wins arguments that might lead to finance ministers being fired)

Work experience 
Founded Skills Dynamic in 1999. The consulting firm was involved in social development projects in Richard’s Bay for government.

Founding director and executive chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation. (See: making good friends)

Appointed chairperson of SAA. In her time there, she has developed strong experience in human resources – particularly staff dismissals). Also became very familiar with SAA’s finances and inventive marketing strategies to apply for loans.

Achievements 

1. Has bad ideas that would get other people fired

SAA found a way to save itself after it found it couldn’t pay French aircraft manufacturer Airbus for aircrafts it had already pre-purchased. Deadlines were set for when SAA would pay Airbus money for the 20 A320 aircrafts it had ordered, but a leaked memorandum in 2015 showed that SAA was in a bad state.

SAA chief financial officer Wolf Meyer said that SAA is  “technically insolvent” and under the Companies Act it was found that the board is “required to file for business rescue and liquidations”.

SAA received 10 A320 aircrafts, but then the economy tanked and SAA had a financial crash. The airline and Airbus agreed that of the 10 remaining A320s, five would be swapped for five long haul aircrafts called A330s, and the other five would be refunded. Some SAA execs let out sighs of relief, but those didn’t last long.

Myeni had an idea of her own for Airbus to sell the A330s to an African leasing company who would then lease it to SAA in rands rather than dollars. But Treasury saw no evidence that this would improve SAA’s dire financial situation and ordered SAA to revert to the original agreement with Airbus.

2. Myeni 1 – 0 Treasury 
In 2015, the previous finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, rejected Myeni’s idea for the Airbus deal and told SAA to enforce the original plan to swap the aircrafts and get a refund on the money they had pre-paid for the delivery. Zuma summarily dismissed Nene and the axing was linked to Nene’s resistance to Myeni’s plans.

When Pravin Gordhan was named finance minister, one of his first priorities was to “stabilise” SAA and he called the airline within 24 hours of his appointment as minister. He is, however, withholding a R5-billion guarantee government has to bail SAA out, but says the money will be available once SAA switches up its board. Myeni will likely stay and score another victory against treasury because she’s got some powerful support.

3. Can name drop Zuma 
Has been financially linked to Zuma since the early 2000s. In 2005, the Scorpions raided Zuma’s attorney’s records while they were pursuing corruption charges against Zuma. In between sending money to his kids and the schools and colleges, Zuma also sent money to Myeni, who had helped him set up his foundation.

Rumours swirled that the two were romantically involved and the presidency routinely denied them. Zuma even attended Myeni’s daughter’s wedding in 2008.

“I have been associated with the Zuma family as one of their many friends, as a follower in respect of my political history and also in my capacity as the chairperson of the fund. I am proud of these associations and they are well known,” Myeni told the Mail & Guardian in 2014, addressing speculation that her relationship with Zuma had influenced business.

“These relationships do not create or occasion any conflict of interest. They are disclosed … for reasons of transparency and ring-fenced from my public duties.” 

When Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown was fed up with Myeni for ignoring Brown’s order to explain former SAA CEO Monwabisi Kalawe’s suspension, Myeni somehow remained in her position as chairperson of the airline. Kalawe was suspended for seemingly no reason and although Brown cannot order the board on its duties, she showed no tolerance for further instability at SAA.

“SAA can’t (be allowed to) fail. I will fire whoever if further instability is caused within SAA. If anybody creates instability, I will say: ‘I can’t work with you, there’s the door’,” she told the Sunday Times in 2014.

Despite defying the minister, Myeni remained SAA chair – a feat which may be thanks to a certain friendship.

Current employment

In August, despite widespread criticism of her leadership at SAA, Myeni retained her position. Treasury made recommendations as to who the members of SAA’s new and improved board should be, and while Myeni was not included on that list, she had the last laugh (he he he). 

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.
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