Singing and dancing as South Africa’s national airline returns to the skies

(Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Jubilant South African Airways (SAA) staff at the country's biggest airport broke into song and dance on Thursday as the airline took to the skies for the first time in around a year.

By Siphiwe Sibeko

State-owned SAA’s longstanding financial woes were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and it halted all operations last September when it ran out of funds. The company exited administration in April thanks to another massive government bailout.

It restarted domestic flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Thursday and next week will launch a slimmed-down international service to five African capitals: Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka and Maputo.

“After so many months we’ve been waiting for this moment, I am so excited. I am over the moon,” Mapula Ramatswi, an SAA flight attendant told Reuters at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

“I’m actually emotional the fact that it’s happening today, we never thought it would happen.”

Ramatswi said the many months when SAA was grounded were difficult financially, but her family had helped her pull through.

Her colleagues sang church songs, ululated, clapped and danced nearby as an SAA plane with its tail fin bearing the colours of the South African flag took off.

The government has said it will sell a majority stake in SAA to a local consortium, and a due diligence process has been mostly completed. But the share purchase agreement has not yet been signed.

The planned sale of a 51% stake in SAA is part of government efforts to halt repeated bailouts to ailing state firms like SAA and power utility Eskom that have placed massive strain on stretched public finances. (Additional reporting by Sisipho Skweyiya Writing by Alexander Winning Editing by Frances Kerry)


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  • Kb1066 . says:

    obscure destinations, no Lagos, Nairobi or Dakar

  • Nick Miller says:

    I expected the first flight to be full of journalists reporting on the level of occupancy. Of course, any such reports cannot distinguish between paying passengers and the politicians taking freebies and those utilising vouchers for previous flights not taken due to business rescue.
    I bet part of the Consortium’s due diligence will be looking at how many paying passengers are actually on board!

  • James King says:

    A “big bang” approach to re-starting is not in SAA’s interest, nor in the interests of the local air travel industry, one would think. Until all the agreements are finalised it will be sensible to stick to longer domestic and higher payload routes like JNB-CPT. The fleet must also have been massively rationalised, as an idle aircraft is a loss-maker every minute it is on the ground.
    In my opinion, until more is known about the exact business plan that Gidon Novick and his Global Aviation team have to lift SAA up like a phoenix from the ashes, this token relaunch from SAA prior to Heritage Day should only be seen as a publicity stunt.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    One wonders for how long SAA will be around? all the dancing and happiness was sweet but no thanks from these ingratiates to the over burdened taxpayer who kept SAA going when we could have been building houses, getting people out of appalling living conditions and maintaining hospitals and suchlike for the benefit of all people of SA!

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