​Former SAA interim CEO Bezuidenhout set to return to embattled airline

Former SAA interim chief executive Nico Bezuidenhout is set to make a return to the embattled state company’s domestic low-cost carrier, Mango.

The Mail & Guardian has learned through several highly placed sources that Bezuidenhout, who left Mango in 2016 to join regional low-cost airline Fastjet, will be the latest name to be unveiled by SAA’s embattled board following last week’s announcement that Adam Voss would soon take up the position of SAA technical CEO.

Three different sources have confirmed Bezuidenhout has been in negotiations with SAA for a couple of weeks after he was offered the position at the end of April. “From what I understand his main concerns are around whether Mango still enjoys the same level of independence from SAA it enjoyed in the past,” one source said.

Mango, a domestic low-cost airline, is a subsidiary of SAA but is totally autonomous with its own executive structure and board.

Fastjet is a listed British-based low-cost airline which operates in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

When Bezuidenhout joined the company it was loss-making and he has managed to stem the tide to a point where the company is projected to break even this year.

SAA is still trying to recover from the sudden resignation, two weeks ago, of former CEO Vuyani Jarana which threw the airline’s turnaround strategy into turmoil. Jarana, who joined SAA from Vodacom in late 2017, cited interference and lack of money as some of the reasons for his departure.

In the wake of his resignation, SAA board chairperson JB Magwaza said besides appointing Voss, the airline had made an offer for the Mango job and was close to concluding several other senior appointments at the airline.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali on Friday said the process to appoint a CEO, though at an advanced stage, is yet to be finalised.

“It is in our own interests to announce such critical appointments but cannot do so before the conclusion of salient administrative and legal processes. We urge the media to exercise patience until we have dispensed with these necessary outstanding steps to enable us to announce who the CEO for Mango will be and what their commencement date with the airline will be.”

When approached for comment Bezuidenthout referred all queries to SAA, saying they were best placed to comment on their appointments.

Bezuidenhout’s departure from SAA three years ago followed a massive dispute between him and controversial former SAA chair Dudu Myeni, which resulted in her informing then-Mango chair Rashid Wally of her intention to institute a third forensic investigation into him.

The fall-out was precipitated by Bezuidenhout revealing to SAA’s board that Myeni invoked former president Jacob Zuma — a family friend of hers — and ordered Bezuidenhout to pull out of signing an expanded code-share deal with Emirates Airlines in 2015.

Bezuidenhout pulled out of the Paris signing of the deal, which would have added R2-billion to SAA’s revenue, at the last minute after the midnight phone call from Myeni.

His return to Mango however has courted a little controversy after SAA’s advertisement for the position earlier this year listed matric and aviation experience as minimum qualifying criteria for the job.

Commentators accused SAA of tailoring the requirements to accommodate him, prompting SAA board member Thandeka Mgoduso to address the issue with media last week.

Defending the criteria last week Mgoduso said the airline did not want to close the doors for any deserving aviation executives who possess the necessary experience to run an airline.

In 2014, Bezuidenhout was accused of overstating his qualification in SAA’s 2011 and 2012 annual reports, which said he had degrees in Industrial Psychology and Transport Economics, as well as an MBA. This is despite the fact he had not completed any of them.

READ MORE: SAA acting CEO ‘overstated his qualifications’

At the time the airline called it an editing error, while Bezuidenhout, who has acted as interim CEO at SAA on two different occasions, said everyone knew that he did not have the qualifications. 

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Sabelo Skiti

Sabelo Skiti is an investigative journalist.

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