/ 6 September 2019

SAA executive accused of spying

Suspended: Vuyo Tuku allegedly refused to give his ‘free’ seat to a passenger.
Vuyo Tuku says he was never accused of spying even when SAA sent charges to him. (Tshepo Kekana/Sunday World/Gallo Images)

A senior SAA executive has been suspended amid allegations of spying — and refusing to give his “free” business class seat to a paying customer.

Vuyo Tuku, who is the acting customer experience executive, was allegedly caught on closed circuit cameras at Airways Park in the OR Tambo International Airport precinct sharing sensitive company information.

It could not be established what information was being shared, or with whom, but two sources said the cameras, in his office, recorded him emailing the information.

At the same time the executive allegedly had a complaint lodged against him by a captain after he refused to vacate his business class seat to accommodate a passenger whose seat had broken down.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali confirmed Tuku’s suspension pending finalisation of an internal investigation, but said the airline’s policy was that he could not divulge reasons for the suspension to ensure “an untainted process, which acknowledges the rights of employees and observe principles of fairness”.

Speaking generally, Tlali said that rebate tickets, which are part of industry travel benefits, are offered in certain categories of discounts and in all instances require payment of benefit taxes by all employees.

“The rebate tickets policy, among other things, provides that passengers who travel on revenue tickets must always take priority on flights and preference on seats over employees travelling on rebate tickets. This means, employees using rebate tickets are never strictly guaranteed travel and must always yield to passengers traveling on revenue tickets.

“The same policy provisions apply and are enforceable on rebate tickets whether on leisure or duty travel.”

He added: “Noncompliance with any provision of the rebate policy or any other policy for that matter, constitutes misconduct.”

Tuku said the incident, which happened on his flight back from Brazil, did not involve a rebate ticket because it was booked by work, for work. “I was not being downgraded to economy, I was being moved from my seat to a seat that was not working … That customer was meant to be compensated.

“I told them [the SAA crew] that I was also tired and had not slept properly for days … There was no policy compelling me to move under those circumstances.

“SAA’s policy is that in these cases customers should be compensated, I do not understand why this led to me being suspended.”

He also said the sharing of information charge could be linked to him sending documents to his personal email address related to the complaint and subsequent inquiries.

Two sources said Tuku got upset when cabin crew asked him to move from the seat for a paying customer, and the duty captain had to intervene.

“There was an actual complaint from the captain who was operating the flight that he refused to move from his seat and even dared the captain to remove him,” said one.

Tuku is one of several executives brought into SAA by then chief executive Vuyani Jarana as part of his attempts to turn the ailing airline around.

Spying and the use of hidden recording equipment is not new at SAA. In 2015 the airline’s then chief financial officer, Wolf Meyer, resigned after he was caught recording a board meeting by controversial chairwoman Dudu Myeni.

At the time Meyer said the recording device, which was disguised as a pen but noticed by one of Myeni’s security officers, was to protect himself.

The meeting was discussing a potential R15-billion debt consolidation after it had put out a tender for a willing financier.

The height of paranoia at SAA saw Myeni’s security guards standing at the door with a bag into which executives had to place their cellphones for the duration of the board meeting.

In June the embattled national carrier’s board held a meeting at the offices of financial advisory firm Rothschild & Co after it became suspicious that offices at Airways Park were bugged. This was in the immediate aftermath of Jarana’s resignation from the airline.

Following the publication of the M&G article, Vuyo Tuku appealed to the press advocate, Joe Latakgomo, to elaborate on the response he offered the newspaper when the allegations of spying were put to him.