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Opinionista

Is #FlyNotSAA our only answer to Dudu Myeni’s private empire?

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Wayne Duvenage is a businessman and entrepreneur turned civil activist. Following former positions as CEO of AVIS and President of SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association, Duvenage has headed the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse since its inception in 2012.

Dudu Myeni has been in the headlines on many occasions over the past few years, but more often than not, it’s not for accolades or new services and innovation related to the 82-year-old brand she is chairwoman of. Instead, Myeni finds herself having to explain why dodgy finance and advisory services deals are being commissioned by the airline’s board at substantially higher cost to the ailing airline than normal competitive forces would allow.

Now, if this was her airline, no one would give a damn, because in the normal world of competition and cash flow, SAA would have crashed a long time ago. And if the board she was chairing had shareholders who expected results and wanted a decent return for their investment, well, she would more than likely have been fired a long time ago.

So how it is possible that Ms Myeni remains in charge of SAA today? Having lost substantive talent over the years, Myeni now sits with a grossly inexperienced senior management team when compared to the successful private and state run airlines around the world.

Over the past year alone, the airline has lost many good people with vast airline and commercial experience, either due to resignation out of frustration or through dismissal or suspension. A short list of some of them: Sylvain Bosc (Chief Commercial Officer), Dr Masimba Dahwa (Acting Chief Procurement Officer), Wolf Meyer (CFO), Nico Bezuidenhout (CEO of SAA Subsidiary Mango and Acting CEO of SAA on a few occasions), Marc Cavaliere (Head of Global Sales Development & Alliances at SAA), Thuli Mpshe (Head of HR and once an Acting CEO) and now most recently, Cynthia Stimpel (Group Treasury Head). Every one of them refused to play the game by Myeni’s rules and as such, they were either too uncomfortable to stay on, their roles and positions circumvented or they were simply suspended on charges without substance.

The reason espoused by Myeni for many of these moves was the lack of support for transformation. But the transformation Myeni seeks often involves a gross overpayment for services from unknown entities and people, making millions for little effort, rightfully evoking questions and concerns from those who care. This kind of transformation trashes the BBBEE process driven hard by the DTI. This kind of behaviour is just not on for a failing business, especially one that hijacks my cash for support.

So what do the real shareholders of SAA say about the board’s performance? The public who follow the situation appear to be concerned and disapproving. Myeni’s bosses in government, depending on who she believes she reports to, send mixed messages. Treasury is worried, but their boss, the president, sees nothing wrong. But then again I didn’t think he would.

The taxpayer however, the ultimate shareholder, is getting a little peeved with their money being used year after year to bail out the loss-making entity, when all local and international benchmarks point to an airline that ought to be profitable.

It is indeed an unusual situation that our national carrier finds itself in. If not her bosses, then who will bring the chairwoman in line with her fiduciary duties and responsibilities as head of the board? Is this ultimately a matter left once again to our busy public protector or civil society to take up? The disapproving flying public may even use their power and move over to a competitor airline, but one imagines a declining share of the market wouldn’t worry the chair. Who needs customers’ cash when you have Treasury’s purse to dip into. But with Treasury’s purse strings pulled rather tight of late, the galley in SAA’s boardroom may become rather stuffy in the weeks and months to come.

Perhaps it’s time for Comair or Safair to fleet up. For as long as the current SAA chair and her pandering directors give heed to her requests for obscure and dubious deals, the call to #FlyNotSAA will begin to take wings.

For as long as we have political interference and protection of questionable leadership behaviour within state-owned entities, the arrogance of individuals will permeate these organisations as if they were their personal empires, and their losses not really theirs to worry about. DM

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