Is the SAA Board Orchestrating a Strategy to Collapse the Company & have it privatised?

By Pinky Khoabane


“When the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund lend money to debtor countries, the money comes with strings attached. These strings come in the form of policy prescriptions called ‘structural adjustment policies.’ These policies require debtor governments to open their economies to penetration by foreign corporations, allowing access to the country’s workers and environment at bargain basement prices. Structural adjustment policies mean across-the-board privatization of public utilities and publicly owned industries. They mean the slashing of government budgets, leading to cutbacks in spending on health care and education. And, as their imposition in country after country in Latin America, Africa, and Asia has shown, they lead to deeper inequality and environmental destruction.” Global Exchange.

One of the institutions that arose out of the negotiated settlement was the Transitional Executive Committee (TEC) as an interim government comprised of members of the ANC and the Nationalist Party. The TEC had many sub councils one of which was the sub-council on finance. The terms of the $850 million IMF loan the ANC government took in 1993 included cuts in state spending, the privatisation of SOEs, large cuts in public sector wages, and commitment to abandoning nationalisation. The ANC took out this loan to service the apartheid debt which was used to buy arms in its battle against Black people and to prop-up a system that oppressed them. In 1951-67 for example, the World Bank lent the apartheid regime more than $200m, half of which went to support electricity generation when the sprawling townships were denied electricity. In effect, the ANC paid for apartheid loans which were meant to destroy the Black populace. The IMF and World continued to supply loans to apartheid South Africa despite calls for anti-apartheid financial sanctions.

Since the $850m loan there have been more millions poured into the country as loans from the World Bank and with it, the ditching of the more progressive aspects of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). The Bank has had many representatives advising post-apartheid SA on policy which has been more “market orientated” and anti-poor.

Who were among the members of the TEC sub-council on finance that agreed to this deal.

  • Former President Thabo Mbeki headed the council
  • Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel who was Chairman of World Bank and IMF at one stage and is now head of Rothschild Africa
  • Maria Ramos who was Director General of Treasury. She left for Transnet before ending at Barclays Africa as CEO
  • Pravin Gordhan who was co-chair of TEC from 1991 – 1994, Sars Commissioner from 1999 – 2009, was appointed as finance minister in Zuma administration and returned for a second term after Nenegate. He was fired recently as part of Zuma’s latest cabinet reshuffle. It was Pravin who signed for the $850m IMF loan
  • Tito Mboweni who became Minister of Labour and thereafter Governor of Reserve bank between 1999 – 2009, and is currently advisor of Goldman Sachs International

The privatisation of state-owned entities began earnestly as soon as the democratic dispensation was ushered-in, with the ministry of finance given to Gill Marcus as deputy minister in 1994. Her biggest task was privatising the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) effectively giving away the country’s monetary policy to white private hands. After privatising the Reserve Bank, she became its deputy governor in 1999 and its governor in 2009.

Between 1997 and 2004, eighteen state-owned-entities were privatised.

South African Airways (SAA) 

South African Airways (SAA) was established in 1934 and was under the civil aviation department until it was incorporated into Transnet in 1990. Transnet included other government transport entities.

With the pressure for privatisation as stipulated in the World Bank and IMF loans, Transnet had to undergo a process of privatisation.

With the poor financial performance over the years, exacerbated by the arrival of Coleman Andrews as CEO in 1998 as the turn-around strategist who, among many questionable decisions, sold off SAA’s fleet only to lease it back, calls for SAA to be privatised have been growing louder. Some in the ruling ANC have resisted privatisation while others who are pushing the neo-liberal policies have supported privatisation.

Coleman, an American, was appointed by then-managing director of Transnet Saki Macozoma. A report in Business Day in 2001, said SAA had paid over a R1billion “without making a single cent in sustainable profits”. The profit of R350m that SAA posted in 2000 was through the once-off sale of the aircrafts instead of a sustainable improvement of the assets. His tenure was met with public outcry and accusations of discrepancies and wastage. In a motion in Parliament, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said Andrews’s tenure “smacked of nepotism, blatant waste of taxpayer’s money and terrible business decisions’.

Andrews resigned on 1 April 2001, twenty-months into the job. He had earned more than R220m. He got over R200m in a handshake.

Fast-foward to 2016, when what has been described as a board hand-picked by Gordhan takes office in September. Among the newly-appointed board members is Tryphosa Ramano, appointed Vice Chairman. She’s not new to SAA having worked as CFO previously and had to resign when it was apparent her marching orders were on the way. She also sits on the audit and risk, procurement, and finance committees.  Among her previous bosses is Ketso Gordhan, the nephew of Pravin Gordhan, with whom she worked at the cement producer PPC. Ketso was CEO and she the financial director.

Bain Consulting as Turn-Around-Strategists

Towards the end of October last year, in a shocking move, Pravin announced that Bain Consulting, whose founder is Coleman Andrews, was hired as the turn-around strategists at SAA. Part of that strategy would include privatising 25% of the national carrier. The announcement was slammed by among others, the ANC Women’s League and lobby group BlackFirst LandFirst (BLF) who both wrote to President Jacob Zuma requesting he institutes a commission of enquiry into SAA. But the airline has had to appoint restructuring consultants Seabury Consultants as per the instructions of the lenders.

Myeni seen as stumbling block to privatisation 

Sources say Chairperson Dudu Myeni is seen as the stumbling block to efforts to privatise the airline and is said to be sidelined by the new board. The source said although there are four scheduled board meetings for the year, the Board has called ten meetings this year, many of the special meetings being called at short notice. One such meeting was a hurriedly convened meeting on 27 February 2017 to address the issue of liquidity of the airline. At stake was R800m which SAA was to pay the following day on 28 February failure to which the carrier would not be in a position to pay its liabilities. Documents show that on 26th February 2017, members of the finance committee received legal opinion on the consequences of SAA not being in a position to pay its debts. On 27 February, a board meeting was convened to deal with this dire situation which could trigger a default the following day. It is inconceivable how the situation had come to be a crisis when some members of the board and management had been working with Treasury and the lenders on a weekly basis to find a solution to the liquidity problem at SAA.

A story in the Mail&Guardian, written by Jessica Bezuidenhout, a family member of former SAA CEO Nico Bezuidenhout, who left under a dark cloud, said Myeni’s board colleagues were seeking legal advice to oust her on the basis that she was absent at six special board meetings and didn’t respond to communication from the board. It quoted Ramano’s letters to Myeni on April 7, 16 and 26 as evidence of the latter. Nico was CEO at the airline when it outsourced ticket sales to Christo Wiese’s Shoprite Holdings of which he’s the chairman. Wiese was Chairman of Mango airline at the time. Mango is a subsidiary of SAA.

The Macquarie Deal

It was also during Nico Bezuidenhout’s time at SAA that Mango leased aircrafts from Macquarie, which is part-owned by Brait, which is chaired by Wiese. Ketso Gordhan and former minister in former President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, Jay Naidoo, own shares in Macquarie through the J&J Group. In an article published here last year, The Maytrix, suggested J&J were blocking broad based empowerment. He wrote: “When Mango wanted to extend the Macquarie aircraft lease deal, SAA rejected the deal and asked for Macquarie to furnish empowerment credentials. Right-wing media along with the Democratic Alliance cried foul and began a fear-mongering campaign around SAA’s failure to sign the deal that could save billions…

“But back to SAA, wouldn’t you want to be Macquarie? Imagine receiving this sort of protection whereby the media goes up in arms when clients refuse to give you deals? What has also gone unnoticed is that former cabinet minister in President Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, Jay Naidoo and Ketso Gordhan, Pravin’s nephew, have a stake in Macquarie through J&J Group. Mango wanted the SAA board to recommend the Macquarie lease deal to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (now former). The Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) is seemingly being used to elevate Gordhan’s role to that of a parallel president who dictates to arms of government on who they may or may not do business with. All of this is done under the guise of financial prudence.

Away from the smokescreen is the Ketso and Pravin conflict which is already apparent. Pravin is Ketso’s uncle”.


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  1. Thank you for the insightful pieces of work ! Black South Africa is at war, and many do not even have an idea !

  2. Is there a role that can be played by members of society in South Africa to put pressure on the people doing these sofistucated thievery?

    1. Dear Armstrong, we have all these bodies which the regime-change NGOs are using quite effectively. But they also take the shorter route by going to court because they have the means.

      But the point you make is very important. We as citizens need to take things a step further than simply writing.

      I hope we can start something….Please don’t forget this thought.



    1. The media has been operating like the opposition. Nelson Mandela said it at ANC Congress in Mahikeng. They are now openly on a regime change mode.

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