South Africa

South Africa

SAA: Yes, Dudu Myeni is out

SAA: Yes, Dudu Myeni is out

It’s Wednesday night’s breaking news headline, but that’s the thing with Dudu Myeni – many will need convincing that the powers-that-be have finally been cornered into letting go of uBaba’s favourite chairperson. So we’ll say it again: Dudu Myeni is OUT. By Jessica Bezuidenhout for SCORPIO.

This story was updated on October 19, at 11.30am.

Dudu Myeni, the woman who ruled and riled some of the country’s top executives during her tenure as chairperson of South African Airways, has finally been shown the door.

National Treasury, the caretaker custodian of SAA, confirmed Myeni’s departure as part of key changes to the board that will now be headed by veteran businessman Johannes “JB” Magwaza, founder of Nkunzi Investment Holdings.

Magwaza is one of six new appointments – approved at a meeting of the Cabinet yesterday – that include Nolitha Fakude as deputy chairperson and non-executive director, Geoff Rothschild, Ahmed Bassa, Tinyiko Mhlari and Martin Kingston.

“The new board brings talent, expertise and energy to the airline, and they are all highly regarded individuals with vast and in-depth knowledge of business in both the private and public sectors,” a statement by Treasury stated.

Myeni’s term officially came to an end at the end of August but finance minister Malusi Gigaba extended it to November when the airline’s AGM is set to take place. The legality of this decision was immediately challenged by MPs.

Daily Maverick unsuccessfully reached out via text message to Myeni on Wednesday night to inquire if she had asked to be relieved of her post or whether perhaps she had discussed it with President Jacob Zuma during a trip to Nigeria earlier this week.

News of her departure came barely 24 hours after a photograph of her alongside President Jacob Zuma in Nigeria surfaced on social media.

Alf Lees, the DA’s deputy shadow minister of finance, welcomed Myeni’s departure, saying “she has done untold damage to SAA” and should never have been appointed to the board and certainly not as board chair.

He said Myeni’s departure was a sign that Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba had finally been forced to act to stop the mismanagement at the cash-strapped airline.

The question remains as to where Gigaba is going to find the R10-billion required to meet the R5.2-billion already paid to SAA for loans and working capital as well as the R4.8-billion required to keep the airline trading until the end of the 2017/2018 financial year, Lees said.

However, Lees said Myeni’s exit is far too little, too late, adding that there is no saving SAA. Myeni’s departure brings to an end nearly eight years of bizarre rule under her at SAA.

During her tenure, SAA not only lurched from one crisis to the next, the airline lost key executives with casualties including former CEOs Vuyisile Kona and Monwabisi Kalawe, who both left after bruising battles with Myeni.

In addition, clashes with Myeni led to the departure of former chief commercial officer, Sylvain Bosc, chief financial officer Wolf Meyer and chief strategy officer Barry Parsons who left after labelling the SAA board “dysfunctional” in 2015.

Myeni’s extended term at the airline has often been ascribed to her close ties to President Zuma, whose charitable foundation she chairs.

In what was widely seen as a trade-off, Myeni survived the chop last September when then finance minister Pravin Gorhan brought in several new board members in a bid to stabilise the running of the airline.

However, months later, Myeni was seemingly back to her old ways and some of the new board members sought to have her removed because she had allegedly been missing in action. 

The airline board at the time instructed lawyers to examine Myeni’s conduct and an alleged lack of participation in company business against her duties as a director in terms of the Companies Act.

She also faces an application by the SAA Pilots Association and civic organisation Outa which seek to have her declared a delinquent director in a bid to prevent her from serving as a director of company.

A key element of that case rests on Myeni’s alleged role in various botched deals that impacted on the financial well-being of the airline.

Those included the debacle around SAA’s appointment of a little-known financial services company, BnP Capital , and her alleged blocking of a lucrative deal with global airline, Emirates,  in 2o15 when she stopped then acting CEO Nico Bezuidenhout from signing a non-binding agreement with Emirates because “uBaba” allegedly did not want them to sign.

Late last year the Companies Tribunal slapped Myeni with an administrative notice, one she later appealed, and lost.

This related to her having lied when, in 2013, she told the minister of public enterprises that the airline board had decided to acquire two new Airbus planes when a resolution had actually been passed for 10. It was always unclear why she had sought to split the deal.

Daily Maverick asked some of the airline’s former executives for comment about her departure. One of them couldn’t help but be reminded of a strange request that had come through the once powerful chair:

“It was the weekend of the Durban July. Flights were full and she had relatives who needed to fly to Durban.”

What do you do when you’re running an airline?

Daily Maverick has had sight of internal communication from the chair to several executives in which she asked that they put on an extra flight.

It was July 2015, and it reads: “My family needs to go back to KZN. All flights are fully booked. I requested SAA to deploy an extra flight as it is holidays. Even extra frequency as u see fit to take are of the holiday. Is there a reason why it’s difficult to do this?” DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma is welcomed by the acting CEO of SAA, Musa Zwane and the Chairman of the SAA Board, Ms Dudu Myeni at the Airways Park in Kempton. 06/05/2016 Kopano Tlape GCIS


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