Branson says Virgin would 'have a look' at SAA stake if asked - report


Richard Branson has said Virgin Atlantic would be open to buying an equity stake in struggling South African Airways, according to a report in Business Day.

Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, was speaking at an event in Johannesburg on Thursday morning. 

According to Business Day, he said he would be open to investing in SAA as he is "known as Dr Yes at Virgin".

"So if we were approached by the SA government, we’d definitely have a look."

SAA has been struggling to break even for years. It received a R5.5bn government bailout this year, intended to let it extend the maturities on its outstanding debt obligations and allow it to develop a repayment plan.

Finance Minister Tito, meanwhile, announced at the recent mid-term budget that government will help the cash-strapped flag carrier repay R9.2bn in state-guaranteed debt over the next three years. 

"In its current configuration, SAA is unlikely to generate sufficient cash flow to sustain operations," states the mid-term budget document. 

'An honest leader' 

Branson said at the event the most important thing South Africa has in its new government is an honest leader, adding he now feels ''much more confident investing in SA with him [Ramaphosa] at the helm, than the previous group [Jacob Zuma].''  

According to Branson, ''a good leader is someone that is a good listener, the worst kind is someone that does all the talking and not listening.'' 

Virgin Atlantic is not the only airline that has shown an interest in becoming an equity partner in SAA. In mid-October President Cyril Ramaphosa told an investor conference in London that the government was engaging in talks with potential strategic equity partners, whom he did not name. 

Bloomberg reported in early October, meanwhile, that Ethiopian Airlines Group would consider buying a stake in SAA. 

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