​SAA pilots aren’t convinced Dudu Myeni is the ‘best person’ for the job of chair

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan accepted President Jacob Zuma’s condition that Myeni be kept on as chair of the SAA board, averting a national crisis. (Waldo Swiegers, Bloomberg)

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan accepted President Jacob Zuma’s condition that Myeni be kept on as chair of the SAA board, averting a national crisis. (Waldo Swiegers, Bloomberg)

Less than a month after being reappointed chairperson of the SAA board, Dudu Myeni has come under fire from the SAA Pilots’ Association, which says “she hasn’t done anything since [her prior appointment to the position] to convince us that she is the best person” to lead the national carrier’s turnaround strategy.

The association questioned Myeni’s capability and track record as head of the SAA board.

“Is Ms Myeni the right person to lead SAA? The SAA Pilots’ Association called for a fit-for-purpose board a year ago. Myeni was the chairperson of the board at the time. She hasn’t done anything since to convince us that she is the best person in the country to lead the national carrier out of its current financial situation,” the association’s chairperson, Jimmy Conroy, told the Mail & Guardian.

Tryphosa Ramano, a former chief financial officer (CFO) at SAA and the current CFO of cement company PPC, was appointed deputy chairperson and nonexecutive director.
The 10-member board includes nonexecutive directors Nazmeera Moola, an Investec Asset Management economist and strategist, and Thandeka Mgoduso, who has served on the board of the Reserve Bank.

Conroy says the incoming board members face a daunting task: “Some arrive with good reputations and I’ve been told that it is a strong board which will be able to curb undesirable activities. The airline industry is a highly competitive, dynamic and technical industry with little room for error. Will the current board be up to the task? It’s going to be a tough ask. Time will tell.”

After accepting President Jacob Zuma’s condition that Myeni be kept on – averting a national crisis – Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan approved a R5-billion bailout for the airline, narrowly avoiding business rescue. The move appeased Hong Kong’s tax authorities, which sought proof that SAA would be able to pay for landing rights for the year ahead and had threatened to ground the airline if it did not provide financial statements.

Speaking at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town on Thursday, Gordhan said that while Myeni would retain her position to ensure some continuity, “any notion that the chair can carry on doing things with the new board that might have been done in the past must be seen in the context of the board’s memorandum of understanding and the script that has to be followed, as well as government rules”.

The controversial former teacher has reportedly overseen the airline’s decline to the brink of bankruptcy, with the treasury withholding billions in government guarantees until the appointment of a competent new board.

The pilots’ association has a history of challenging Myeni. In November last year its members struck an overwhelming vote of no confidence in her leadership.

The meeting was attended by 472 members and came in the wake of comments Myeni had made in an internal communication, in which she said that pilots’ salaries were “exorbitant and unaffordable”. The pilots make up 12% of the airline’s workforce but, according to Myeni, account for 40% of its salary bill.

Last week Myeni hit back at her detractors during a public meeting organised by former Economic Freedom Fighters MP Andile Mngxitama’s Black First Land First movement.

“I want to give you assurance that we found the airline in dire straits. There were people who were aviation experts who were here before us and there is a myth that this chairperson is incompetent, but I am yet to find the yardstick they are using to assess my competence,” Myeni said.

The Democratic Alliance is already planning to challenge Myeni’s appointment in court.

“Her reappointment not only reeks of nepotism and cronyism so common under [President Jacob Zuma’s] administration, but it also flies in the face of the need for good governance at state-owned enterprises, especially SAA ... Our legal action thus seeks to have the reappointment of Ms Myeni set aside as being wholly irrational,” said DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

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