Indestructible Durban roaches

2016-09-18 06:09
SAA board chair Dudu Myeni says the board is concerned about executives who are leaking sensitive information to the media. Pic: Amanda Khoza.

SAA board chair Dudu Myeni says the board is concerned about executives who are leaking sensitive information to the media. Pic: Amanda Khoza.

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Most medium and large firms would take one look at the record of a person like Dudu Myeni and stay far away.

Whether the vacancy was for a typist, a sweeper or a janitor, they would consider hiring her a risk not worth taking.

Just one look at her record, her reputation and, most importantly, her performance in her current role would scare them off.

In this age of instant desktop research, their instinctive response would be confirmed by the volumes that have been written about Myeni.

They would see that her track record at institutions where she has worked or played a leadership role has been mostly awful and akin to Cabinet meetings chaired by North Korea’s dictatorial Kim Jong-un.

More than any of numerous misdeployment decisions taken by the current administration, Myeni’s appointment as SAA chairperson has to be the costliest and most disastrous.

The R4.7 billion loss announced by the airline for the 2014/15 financial year is but the tip of an iceberg.

It is expected that the losses for the last financial year could be as high as R1.8 billion and the current year’s first-quarter loss about R1 billion.

This week’s release of the beleaguered airline’s results – abridged results to boot – follows the failure to do so for two successive financial years.

During her tenure as chairperson, Myeni has worked her way through four chief executives, both full time and acting.

These were capable individuals who knew a thing or two about running large businesses.

They had sound knowledge of numbers, turnaround strategies and managing people. And for their sins, these individuals were firm on governance and ethics – alien words to Myeni.

Her problem did not just end with those executives. Upstanding board members simply could not stand her ways and walked out on the airline, at one point collapsing the entire structure in one go.

The most damning resignation statement came from Yakhe Kwinana, who was considered something of a Myeni ally.

Kwinana said she feared that SAA would be liquidated and, as a director, its failure would affect her position in her own companies and on other boards on which she sat.

“I choose to resign rather than see SAA folding under my watch, 9 000 jobs being lost, because of my holding on to the position as a board member,” she said.

Staying on would also damage her reputation. “It has come to a stage where I had to weigh the risks of staying ... The bottom line is that my reputation is at stake. My professional certification is at stake,” said the accountant.

Then, ominously, she speculated that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s appointment of a new board was being hampered.

“It is his prerogative to appoint a new board. The minister has not done what is expected; maybe other forces are hindering him,” she said.

Well, Gordhan did appoint a new board shortly afterwards and guess who was still there: Myeni, of course.

The least qualified and most controversial of those who have sat in that boardroom in the past five years survived the chop.

Anyone who has lived in Durban would be familiar with the frustrating and near-impossible task of trying to get rid of those humongous cockroaches endemic to that city.

That is how Gordhan must be feeling right now as he ponders another 12 months of tolerating the indestructible Myeni.

Now let us return to the state into which Myeni has plunged the airline – and the state in which it has to be rescued by a board and executive team led by her.

The state is laid bare in an internal memorandum, which was given to the board by the executive last November – one month before Nhlanhla Nene was fired as finance minister for, inter alia, trying to rein in Myeni.

The memo tells of the disastrous state of a “technically insolvent” SAA, which precluded the auditors from signing off on financial statements.

“SAA is financially distressed and trading under insolvent circumstances. Any further trading under the current circumstances constitutes reckless trading in terms of section 22 of the act,” the memo read. Drastic measures were proposed, such as business rescue and even filing for liquidation on an “urgent basis”.

The airline, which is surviving off government guarantees, is still in that same critical condition – or worse. And the person primarily responsible for this condition is still in the cockpit.

On Tuesday Myeni will appear before Parliament to account for the R4.7 billion loss and SAA’s parlous state. Opposition MPs will give her hell.

Some will probably talk about what she does when the bedroom lights are off – and with whom.

Governing party MPs will most likely do as they did in this week’s House debate and sheepishly follow the party line.

They will add to the gumpf spoken by the ANC’s Pule Mabe when, in defending Myeni, he made the intelligent observation that “our people now can go through SAA and fly in any class they want”.

Myeni will leave Cape Town walking with a swagger and taunting her detractors like those Durban insects do on a hot summer night.

Read more on:    saa  |  dudu myeni  |  pravin gordhan

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