Kalawe drops court bid as SAA lifts veil on suspension

SAA CEO Monwabisi Kalawe (PIC: who's who)
SAA CEO Monwabisi Kalawe (PIC: who's who)

Johannesburg – Suspended South African Airways (SAA) CEO Monwabisi Kalawe has allegedly withdrawn his Labour Court bid to halt his disciplinary hearing, reports revealed on Friday.

SAA suspended Kalawe over allegations including that he used company equipment to record colleagues in his fight against a sexual harassment claim and that he had an affair with a colleague, a document seen by Bloomberg shows.

However, Kalawe said the surveillance equipment installed in his office was never used, he said in a document submitted to the Labour Court on April 2 and seen by Bloomberg.

Kalawe asked SAA security staff to install cameras and recording devices in his own office, according to a report prepared by lawyers for the company that a person with knowledge of the matter said was filed at the Labour Court on Wednesday.

However, it would appear that the documents would amount to nothing, as Business Day newspaper on Friday reported that Kalawe had withdrawn his legal challenge, citing a person it did not identify.

Kalawe was suspended from SAA in October and faces disciplinary hearings led by Nazeer Cassim, a senior member of the Johannesburg bar, SAA said in February. No date for the completion of the proceedings has been announced.

In his court papers, Kalawe denies that he unlawfully hired consultants McKinsey & Co. Marlynie Moodley, a spokesperson for McKinsey in Johannesburg, declined to comment.

Johannesburg-based SAA confirmed that it had submitted documents, which included an answering affidavit to Kalawe’s attempt to get a court interdict over his disciplinary hearing, to the Labour Court. Tlali Tlali, a spokesperson for the airline, declined to comment further.

“The board should obtain advice as to whether the conduct of Mr Kalawe outlined herein constitutes gross misconduct or poor performance and if so to what degree,” SAA’s investigators give as their recommendation in the report.

“The appointment of Bagport, McKinsey, Mr Phalane as well as the procurement of the spy cameras by Mr Kalawe, may amount to gross misconduct and may further amount to violations of the Public Finance Management Act.”

‘Covert cameras’

Analysis of Kalawe’s iPhone and iPad showed that he searched for keywords such as “covert cameras” and “McKinsey” and also revealed data records, the report prepared for SAA shows.

Kalawe failed to get the approval of SAA chief financial officer Wolfgang Meyer when he sought to hire management consultants, the airline said in the report.

Kalawe appointed McKinsey on an R80m contract, even though several other companies offered their services for less, SAA alleges in the document. Kalawe denied in his court filing that in signing the contract he breached any policy, law or duty.

Kalawe was having an extramarital affair with a colleague whom he had promised an executive position at Airchefs, an SAA unit, according to an interview with the colleague’s husband contained in the report.

Kalawe denied offering the colleague the Airchefs job in both documents submitted to the court and denied having an improper relationship with her.

Senegal Airline

Kalawe was leading a process for SAA to purchase “an equity stake in the Senegal Airline,” the airline alleges.

Kalawe did this without providing a business case to the board and without the board’s approval and signed a letter of intent, which was beyond his authority, the airline said.

The government’s Department of Public Enterprises was interested in buying a share in Senegal Airlines using SAA, and Kalawe was aware of this, the report shows.

SAA’s board had approved Ghana and Senegal as potential locations for a west African hub, but did not discuss or approve buying an equity stake in an airline, the document shows. SAA was overseen by that government department at the time.

Kalawe said in his court document that he felt “pressed into signing a letter of intent” and denied misleading the board.

Kalawe is also accused of pushing for SAA to pay Bagport South Africa R400m for a three-year contract to wrap luggage as a means of reducing theft, the document shows. Kalawe said the allegations against him around the appointment of Bagport have no merit.

Johannesburg Airport

The airline paid R24m for a three-month trial with Bagport, the documents show.

Kalawe contacted a Bagport SA director 93 times as other companies expressed interest in the contract, the attorneys’ report shows. About 41% of these calls were outside normal working hours, it shows. Bagport did not respond to an email seeking comment and a call to its office at Johannesburg’s main airport was not answered.

“Mr Kalawe was in regular after-hours contact with the director of Bagport,” the report shows. “It is highly irregular to be communicating with a bidder during a formal procurement and tender process and even more so given the after-hours and weekend calls.”

The airline’s security team acquired three devices for the CEO’s office costing a total of R18 000 at Kalawe’s request, the report shows: a desk-top clock concealing a motion-activated camera and recording gear, a pinhole camera with microphone, and video-recording equipment disguised as a vehicle keyring.

‘Yikes sire’

“This was a highly unusual request and that ordinarily this type of service does not fall within their domain,” a member of SAA’s security team said in the report. “They had to procure the listening devices for Mr Kalawe.”

After discussing Kalawe’s request, SAA head of security Johann de Waal sent the CEO a text message saying “Yikes Sire, this is crazy,” according to the document.

Kalawe had understood the remark to be a reference to the harassment claim, the report shows. The executive also said when questioned that he had asked that existing closed-circuit cameras be extended to his office and didn’t realise new equipment had been bought until he was asked to approve the expense, it says.

Kalawe said in his filing that he never used the devices as the female employee moved to another department.

A further allegation against Kalawe involves appointing a former colleague, Moroka Phalane, as an executive assistant on a salary more than double his former wage level and higher than recommended by SAA, the report says.

Kalawe said in his court document that, aside from allowing the process of recruiting Phalane to start prematurely, he did not engage in inappropriate conduct. SAA declined to give phone numbers for Phalane.

Kalawe will remain suspended until the inquiry is completed, the board of SAA said in February.

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