Rival senior officials connected to SAA appeared to be involved in intricate power plays to secure the backing of the powerful Gupta family in late 2012, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard earlier this week.
On Tuesday, former SAA chairperson Vuyisile Kona testified that he found himself caught between the airline's powerful former chairperson, Dudu Myeni, and a former advisor to Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba, as both appeared to maneuvere to stake their claim with the Guptas.
Kona testified that, in late 2012, he was convinced by Siyabonga Mahlangu – then an advisor to Gigaba, to visit the house of some "powerful" stakeholders. At the resulting meeting at the Gupta's Saxonwold compound in Johannesburg, he said he was offered a R500 000 bribe by Tony Gupta to "welcome" him to the family. He refused the bribe.
After the meeting he said he told Dudu Myeni – then the airline's acting chairperson – about what took place. He was, at the time, the airline's acting CEO, having taken up the role after the resignation of Siza Mzimela.
'A lonely place'
He said Myeni was more interested in what he had to eat and drink at the Gupta's.
"So, chair, then I – it became a lonely place to be."
Kona said that after the meeting with Myeni, news that he had confided in the flag carrier's chairperson leaked. He said he assumed this was because Myeni started making calls to find out why he had visited the Guptas after he left, but acknowledged he did not have first hand knowledge of this.
Mahlangu, who Kona said had originally invited him to the Saxonwold compound and was present during the encounter with Tony Gupta, then contacted him by SMS.
'I am compromised'
"He said to me 'I am compromised, I am compromising the mission'. So, the mission was for him to take me to Saxonwold and the other people were not supposed to have known that I went to Saxonwold," he said.
Kona previously testified that, before he was taken to the Gupta compound in October 2012, he had not known of the family.
The SMS was sent on November 27, 2012. It was shown to the commission. It reads:
"Uyangithengisa. Why did you let her know you knew where she was going. You will compromise the mission."
Explaining the meaning of the SMS to the commission, Kona said it implied that he was at fault for making it clear to Myeni that he knew she was also in contact with the Gupta family.
"I think when he took me there his assumption was that she should not know that I have been introduced to these – to these people. I should create my own I think power block if I may say to be able to carry out the job."
He continued: "These are the same power brokers that she was using to move her own agenda of what she wanted to do. However she did not want those – anybody else to be taken to those same power power brokers," he said.
Quizzed by evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr, Kona said Myeni did not "specifically" talk about the power broking that was going on, but said it was clear to him what the state of affairs were.
"By then my eyes were open in terms of what the role of these people was," he said.
Neither Myeni nor Mahlangu have testified before the commission. It is unclear whether this will occur.