Defend Truth


Dear Madam Dudu Myeni … Let’s talk frankly


Dr Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is the Editor of Leadership Magazine and Anchor of Power to Truth on ENCA. He holds a PhD in media studies from Wits University. He is CEO of a communications company Sgwili Media Group and is Author of Lets Talk Frankly. He is also a trustee of the Love Life Trust, The UWC Foundation as well as Chair of the UWC Media Society.

Madam Myeni the situation at SAA would be funny if it was not so tragic. Your job, madam, is governance, not operations. You are destroying the airline with your ego trip.

The Deputy Minister of Finance, Mcebisi Jonas, who was thrust into the limelight last week, shielding the Minister of Finance from having to deal with your shenanigans, thinks that focusing on individuals is unhelpful where SAA is concerned. He says that the tendency to focus on individuals undermines “the process”. I guess this means that you are kind of off the hook. No one can now focus on the fact that since you arrived at the airline, many people saw it fit to leave the sinking ship. Or, more appropriately, the nosediving plane. You are now onto your seventh acting-CEO; it will not be an exaggeration to say you are changing CEOs like you change undergarments. In decent democracies that would be enough for the country to see the back of you as an individual at the helm of a multi-billion rand state owned company. But not here, where the country always comes last.

We will not focus on the fact that the gregarious Minister, Malusi Gigaba, was shown the door when he tried to take you on. And the fierce Minister, Lynn Brown, had SAA removed from her, and bizarrely placed under Treasury, because she dared raise a voice against you. Of course, these are probably just rumours of people who are so unhelpful as to want to focus on individuals. Individuals who are so black and so feminine, as to be untouchable.

The fact that you have appointed your umpteenth acting CEO must be left alone. It can’t possibly be your fault. Otherwise, as you have already pointed out, you may well be suffering for being a black woman. But we should not focus on individuals, as invited by Jonas. It’s easier that way. Because to focus on individuals we will have to ask what makes you so special, as a person who should have a birth-right to destroy our flag carrier. I suppose this is how the cookie crumbles in Mzansi these days. Something that is obvious and starring us in the face is the very thing we invite each other to ignore. But let’s talk frankly. South African Airways is facing a nosedive under your leadership. It is not something we can fudge, regardless of Deputy Minister Jonas’ misplaced mutterings.

Since you seem on the clueless side, let’s break it down for you. Under your steady hand:

  1. Revenues have gone down by a whopping 25%, if not more, since your fingers have been fiddling with that pie.
  2. The airline is burning cash despite the full bums on seats. Meaning one thing; that the sales people are working their behinds off, while you and your dummy board waste it with poor decision-making.
  3. The service has gone to the pits. The less said about what used to be a glorious airline that competed with the best in the world the better. This is more about the demoralised staff who have to fake smiles, day in and say out, and pretend not to know the stuff ups on the 6th floor of Airways Park, the house of horrors.
  4. The pilots have become even more brazen in their determination to stay lily white. Much of it can be pointed at subsequent management who have paid scant attention to training a new crop of pilots who can reflect our demographics. To wake up now and tell me they are overpaid, and insult them in a language they do not understand is a piece of shame that should embarrass you. But you clearly don’t embarrass easily.
  5. The executive team has changed more than ten times in as many years. Enough said. What coherence do you expect ?
  6. The last time the airline made a marginal profit was almost a decade ago. All we know is a begging-bowl syndrome. The airline has gone with a begging bowl to treasury to the tune of R30bn, in recent memory.

The airline has suffered a blurring of lines between the political leadership, the board and the operational people. This is a recipe for chaos. I know of few companies where a chairman of the board should be so involved in deal making that she has to be so entangled. I can tell you for free that it has got nothing to do with you being a woman or being black, There are plenty of women who are black and competent. Your misguided conduct doesn’t represent them.

The airline is not transformed even under your watch. By your own admission, only four percent of procurement is going to black people. To use it now, when the Airbus deal is being questioned as some transformation hero excuse, is as pathetic as possible. Playing the race card so very blatantly is embarrassing. You, madam, have been meddling like mad and your meddling has not resulted in a single black supplier being favoured when they were being marginalised. So, what on earth as you talking about?

There are plenty of black people in parastatals who are incompetent and need to be called out before these parastatals collapse. It is not going to be good enough to hide under the veil of being black . Sorry, that will not cut it. I suppose the fact that you didn’t see the question that was asked by parliament should be attributed to the fact that blacks don’t read? Or that if you want to hide money from a black person, you must hide it in a book? Otherwise how do you explain that you missed the question ‘why you should not be fired’?

The pilot body’s vote of no confidence is not new, but under you they took an extraordinary step to tell you to your face. The black pilots who are numerous these days, were also there, and have not said they do not like you because you are black, they don’t like you because, frankly, you are incompetent. SATAWU’s complains about the pilots are pure lies, and amounts to farcical political grandstanding, because if it was based on anything of substance, they could have done something drastic about the, by-now, an insolvent airline. But are people at SATAWU even able to read a financial statement to save their lives? We know you probably cannot.

Madam Myeni the situation at SAA would be funny if it was not so tragic. Your job, madam, is governance, not operations. You are destroying the airline with your ego trip. I predict that even with your red telephone to Number One you will have to be fired if we are to save this airline.

But I am not done with you. Let’s talk frankly some more .

Let’s now focus on the aircraft sale matters you clearly don’t understand. Where aircraft matters are concerned, you have two options; you can buy, or lease. You are in no position to buy because you can’t afford it. Successful airlines focus on operating leases. With a weak and buttered balance sheet (please look up what that means), owning aircraft is neither your business, nor ability at this stage. Your CFO who you have just fired, should have told you this. The story about getting an intermediary to offset currency is economic nonsense. There is a smelling rat right there. The airfares is a dollar asset, and so your rehearsed answer makes you a laughing stock. SAA will not get anywhere from this. This is a déjà vu of the hedging stuff-up of 11 years ago, coming back to revisit the unsuspecting tax payer. Even if there was some merit in all of this, why on earth, as a non-executive chairperson, are you dealing with this kind of stuff?

Like your colleague at the SABC whose certificate was eaten by a dog, it took weeks of denial to come to terms with the obvious solution to quit. It took parliamentary committees lawyers debates in public, and the dragging of the name of the glorious movement in the mud, and only then did quitting become apparent as a solution. The hotline to Nkandla did not seem to work. Madam are we going down that path again? Apparently. Black woman, you are on your own. DM


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