ANC chairperson and the minister of energy and mineral resources, Gwede Mantashe, has called for beleaguered carrier SAA to be shut down if it cannot sustain itself.
Speaking at the governing party’s 108th birthday celebrations in Komga, Eastern Cape, Mantashe said there was no reason for the state-owned airline to keep receiving bailouts if it was unable to function on its own.
“As government, we have a duty to ensure that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) deliver on both the developmental and financial mandate,” he said.
“SOEs cannot expect to be bailed out over and over again. All the time they run to Tito [Mboweni, the finance minister] to give them money. They must generate a developmental mandate and sustain themselves.”
He said the national carrier, which was not even servicing the working class, was being subsidised by the state to transport “the elite”.
“The working class use buses and taxis. If the money we are using to subsidise SAA was used for the buses, taxis and trains, we would have a case. This thing of continuously pumping money into SAA – which services the elite, middle class and higher class – is a problem,” he added.
Mantashe said if SAA wanted to survive, it should start to make a profit and stand on its own. Otherwise, it should be closed down or taken over by a more capable entity.
“Anyone who can manage to run it should take over. Do you know that we even pay cheaper rates at FlySafair? That airline is much cheaper than SAA and it takes us to our destination on time. And FlySafair is always early. It is never late, while SA Express cancels flights every day. If SAA and SA Express are not performing, they must be closed,” said Mantashe.
The minister was quick to add that his views were not government’s standpoint.
“I am simply expressing a strong view that I have. Airlines, by their nature, are not servicing the working class. They are meant for the middle class, the higher class and the elite. So, it means these are the people who we are subsidising as the state, not the poor and working class. If SAA does not survive on its own and depends on bailouts, it must be closed; simple,” he said, to enthusiastic applause from ANC supporters.
Mantashe is the second minister and senior ANC figure – after Mboweni – to break ranks with the party’s steadfast position that SAA should be retained as a national carrier at all costs.
As ANC chairperson, he would have chaired the party’s January 19 to 20 national executive committee meeting, which formally adopted this position – shortly after SAA went into business rescue in January.
Mantashe’s comments followed those of Eastern Cape chairperson and premier Oscar Mabuyane, who criticised the SAA business rescue practitioners’ decision to halt operations on the Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London routes.
“When you take a decision that will stop flights between Port Elizabeth and East London and Durban, you are denying our province the platform it should enjoy in order to grow its tourism portfolio,” said Mabuyane.
He expressed concern that jobs would be lost as a result, in a province with an already high unemployment rate.
Mantashe also bemoaned the country’s stagnant economic growth. He said that when the ANC came to power in 1994, it had inherited an economy which was in low growth and a fiscus that was empty.
But, he added, after 25 years in power, the ANC-led government had not done much better.
Once a fierce critic of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) strategy during his unionist days as a senior member of the SA Communist Party (SACP), Mantashe admitted that it was only when Gear was implemented that the economy had managed to grow.
“We criticised Gear a lot as trade unions – together with [labour federation] Cosatu and the SACP – as a neo-liberal policy. But Gear was the only time we managed to get 5% growth in the economy. After that, including now, the economy grows just above 0%,” he said.