Do you mean 'blacks can't cook?' asked ex-SAA board chair Dudu Myeni

KEMPTON PARK, SOUTH AFRICA â?? OCTOBER 28: SAA Chairperson Dudu Myeni speaks during a media briefing on October 28, 2016 in Kempton Park, South Africa. During the briefing, Myeni said SAA needs another five years to turn itself around. (Photo by Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)
KEMPTON PARK, SOUTH AFRICA â?? OCTOBER 28: SAA Chairperson Dudu Myeni speaks during a media briefing on October 28, 2016 in Kempton Park, South Africa. During the briefing, Myeni said SAA needs another five years to turn itself around. (Photo by Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)

Former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni was opposed to the 2015 appointment of LSG Sky Chefs as airport lounge catering company and wanted the contract to be awarded to a subsidiary of the national carrier, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Monday.

According to testimony by former acting CEO of SAA, Thuli Mpshe, an irate Myeni had demanded to know why the contract was not awarded to Air Chefs, and called for a "comprehensive review" of the tender, citing support for local companies.

Upon the granting of the tender, Myeni had confronted Mpshe, asking how had Sky Chefs been appointed, stating that SAA had an obligation to its rival Air Chefs. 

Mpshe told the commission that Air Chefs had not been not considered for the bid as they had failed to meet the minimum requirement for the three-year tender, which was worth R85m.

"Do you mean black people cannot cook?" Myeni asked Mpshe, following a Parliamentary briefing.

Conflict of interest?

Air Chefs had previously provided food services at SAA lounges, but been removed following complaints of poor service from customers.

Mpshe stated that the Sky Chefs, which is linked to German airline Lufthansa, had been legitimately appointed and met the required BEE credentials.  

Myeni was chairperson of the board of Air Chefs, a company which is wholly owned by SAA. Judge Raymond Zondo, who is heading the commission, wanted to know how it was possible that Myeni simultaneously served on these boards.

Mpshe responded, saying the practice "would have been conflict [of interest] under normal circumstances."

Legal action

The tender with Sky Chefs was eventually cancelled, and the company is currently suing SAA over the cancellation, said Mpshe.

The inquiry also heard of Myeni's alleged interference in SAA top appointments, including her push for the appointment of Captain Mpho Mamashela to the position of Chief Operations Officer, which was not part of the organisational structure.

Mpshe testified that she objected to the appointment, insisting the creation of the position would require a change in the organisational structure. The appointment was eventually not carried out.

Her resistance led to her being labelled as "obstructive" and someone who "doesn't carry out instructions", she said.

The inquiry, which is investigating allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud at state entities, has heard testimony relating to claims of poor governance at the unprofitable state-owned airline, which has been hobbled by debt

Myeni was replaced as SAA chairperson  in October 2017.

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