Days of Zondo

A new day, another Dudu Myeni special

By Jessica Bezuidenhout 19 June 2019
Caption
SAA chairwoman Dudu Myeni during the announcement of its Annual Financial Results for the 2013/2014 Financial Year on February 1, 2015 in Kempton Park, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Veli Nhlapo)

The former chief financial officer of South African Airways, Phumeza Nhantsi, concluded her testimony at the State Capture Commission on Wednesday with startling claims of how the airline’s former chair, Dudu Myeni, had allegedly ordered her to hire and fire staff.

Former SAA chairperson, Dudu Myeni, allegedly wanting an ally in the airline’s procurement division, instructed the former chief financial officer, Phumeza Nhantsi, to hire someone – ostensibly following a “vision” from God.

The candidate failed an interview, dismally, but Myeni, unimpressed, then allegedly ordered Nhantsi to catch the first flight to Durban for a meeting with her the next morning to explain what went wrong.

Testifying at the Zondo Commission on Wednesday, Nhantsi said, “Someone told me there was a guy who had been struggling, and upon praying, the person saw a vision of Dudu Myeni.”

The man had somehow obtained Nhantsi’s contact details and called her up.

When I spoke to the acting Chief Procurement Officer about it, he knew about (it) and didn’t have questions.”

Nhantsi told the State Capture Commission that there was a vacancy at the time so interviews were set up. However, she was informed that the person had done terribly in the interview so SAA was unable to hire him.

When I told Ms Myeni, she summoned me to travel to Durban to discuss the interview.

We met at Isibaya and her first question was how can a person with an LLB fail an interview. She then asked, does this mean you’re not going to take instructions from the Board.”

Nhantsi said she tried to explain that anyone can fail an interview and that it really depended on the job requirements.

But she could tell from Myeni’s reaction that her responses were not going down well.

She was chastised for refusing to take orders from the Board – in the absence of a Board resolution for this particular vacancy.

I then said I will go back and look at other options for the person.”

But she told the commission that she did not take this forward.

This was not the only staffing issue Myeni had wanted to discuss.

Nhantsi said that, following a meeting at SAA, the State Security Agency had been asked to vet about 100 senior staff members.

Myeni allegedly also ordered Nhantsi to redeploy, otherwise fire, a senior staff member in the finance department.

It later emerged that the staff member in question had failed the SSA process as a result of her holding dual citizenship.

Nhantsi sketched out these examples of the antics of the controversial former SAA chairperson as part of her claims to have worked under extreme pressure and undue interference that had caused her to be scared during her time at SAA.

Nhantsi said she had tried to alert Myeni to labour law concerns around moving this staff member.

Once back in Johannesburg, Myeni called her to find out what she had done about the removal of this staff member. Nhantsi had not acted as yet.

She was furious, she said I don’t follow instructions.”

Nhantsi has been implicated in the testimony of former SAA group treasurer, Cynthia Stimpel, over her role in the appointment of BNP Capital as a transaction adviser for a R15-billion debt consolidation deal.

The company allegedly had links to Myeni and her “personal adviser”, Masotha Mngadi.

BNP later tried to squeeze SAA for a R128-million cancellation fee when the big deal crashed as a result of public pressure and legal action by civic organisation, Outa.

Nhantsi concluded her evidence with claims that both Myeni and Mngadi were somehow linked to BNP Capital and that Myeni knew that Mngadi, then a Nedbank employee, was also linked to BNP.

Nhantsi testified that the cancellation fee sought by BNP formed part of an alleged scheme by Myeni and Mngadi in cahoots with the company.

She said she was never scared of losing her job and believed that she could find a job elsewhere.

Nhantsi had to concede that she had failed to raise the BNP cancellation fee bid in terms of anti-corruption legislation and, thereby, that she had not acted in the best interest of SAA.

She said she had been “scared” and asked the commission to appreciate the steps she took in the end to prevent the deal from being signed off by the Board.

A chartered accountant, she was initially seconded to SAA in November 2015 and later appointed permanently. The BNP Capital deal was a significant lesson in the off-grid workings at SAA. Nhantsi told the commission she did the best she could.

When I joined SAA, I was very excited to be part of the team meant to turn around the company. Once on the ground, I realised the work was doable but there were political things and undue pressure from the Board.”

And, there had been several suspensions of people who had dared to stand up to Myeni.

The commission resumes with testimony by Timothy Ngwenya, the head of security for SA Express. DM

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In other news...

South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.

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However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.

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