Former SAA board chair Dudu Myeni has labelled herself as a “criminal” and a “culprit” after a day of refusing to cooperate with the state capture commission on Wednesday.
Myeni, who was testifying via Zoom after she was exposed to a person who had tested positive for Covid-19, told the chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, on Thursday she knew that she was a criminal before she appeared to the commission.
The commission is probing allegations of state capture.
“So, I came before this commission, knowing clearly that I am a culprit and I am criminal. I did not want to be in contempt, so I ensured that while I am in isolation, I still present myself,” she said.
Myeni spent Wednesday repeatedly expressing the fear that she would incriminate herself in a potential criminal case she expects to face in relation to her role at the helm of SAA,
“I prefer to invoke the right to remain silent on the matters pertaining to SAA. There is a standing judgment wherein Outa and the pilots’ association wanted me to be declared a delinquent director for the collective decisions of the SAA board which were put on my shoulders,” said Myeni.
“The NPA could possibly charge me based on those decisions.”
The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in May declared Myeni a delinquent director after she was found to be dishonest, reckless and grossly negligent in her conduct in some of the airline’s disastrous years, which left it on the brink of collapse.
In her affidavit to the commission, Myeni indicated that she would invoke her right to silence due to her pending appeal of the court order directing that she should be charged after she was declared a delinquent director.
On Wednesday she lived up to her earlier promise not to answer almost every question put to her by the Zondo commission of inquiry.
Myeni — who is a close ally of former president Jacob Zuma and chairs his foundation — became the first witness to argue that she could not be compelled to answer even seemingly neutral questions from the inquiry if she believed her response could be used as part of a criminal prosecution against her.
She argued that she would not be questioned fairly because of her close association to Zuma.
“I felt, chairperson, that appearing before you would make me appear guilty because of my association to Jacob Zuma,” she said.
She added that she was presumed guilty because she is black.
“I feel there is a certain factional group that is being hunted. I am not guilty of anything but I am guilty by association of Jacob Zuma.
“In my journey as a successful and award-winning businesswoman, there has never been any black spot in my leadership style, but there has been so much political conspiracy theories about me – yet I am not a politician, I am a solid businesswoman,” said Myeni.
“There is a belief that if you are black you are a criminal and a belief that a certain faction in society that is associated with [former] president Zuma is corrupt.
“All I am saying chair, is, I wish I was a Madam Venter, because by virtue of colour I would not be presumed guilty to prove my innocence. I am here as an innocent person,” she said.
She was also found to have breached her fiduciary duty to SAA when she intervened in operations that prevented a business transaction with Emirates Airline from taking place. The Dubai-based airline would have brought SAA a minimum revenue of $100 million a year.
Details of the transaction were laid bare in the Outa/SAA Pilots Association case to declare Myeni a delinquent director.
In January 2015, Emirates approached SAA with a proposal for an enhanced commercial relationship. Benefits included an expanded code-sharing relationship and an annual revenue guarantee of $100 million (R1.4 billion), which would have supported SAA in operating a profitable daily service between Johannesburg and Dubai, read the papers
Myeni’s senior counsel Thabani Masuku, who is being assisted by advocate Nqabayethu Buthelezi and Mabuza Attorneys, pleaded with the commission to be fair to his client.
She declined to comment on a letter by six SAA board members who raised concern about her conduct, her disregard for fiduciary duties, and recklessness.
They cited the delay of a Pembroke transaction – in which SAA would lease two aircraft to the financing firm – that they feared would later cost the airline R800 million.
In May 2013 the SAA board resolved that the first 10 Airbus A320 aircraft were to be acquired through a novation sale-and-leaseback transaction with Pembroke Aircraft Leasing, the aircraft financing arm of Standard Chartered Bank.
Evidence leader Advocate Kate Hofmeyr asked if she was aware of the transaction: “Because they said that it resulted in the delay of the Pembroke transaction such that the tie lines for the deliveries of the A320s was delayed by four months and they calculated the impact of that on SAA as being a cost of about R800 million and they added that then had a knock-on effect that SAA had to increase its borrowing requirements with lenders. Are you aware of that?”
Myeni responded: “May I not respond chairperson so that I don’t incriminate myself?”
She’s also declined to answer a question about the composition of the airline’s board.