I did not conspire to scrap SAA's Joburg-Mumbai route for the Guptas - Malusi Gigaba

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Former Minister Malusi Gigaba  appears at the the Zondo Commission.
Former Minister Malusi Gigaba appears at the the Zondo Commission.
Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi.
  • Former minister Malusi Gigaba on Monday denied conspiring for SAA to scrap its Johannesburg-Mumbai route and hand it over to a Gupta-linked airline.
  • Gigaba said the decision to take down non-profitable routes would be taken by the board and then referred to the relevant minister for approval.
  • Gigaba said discussions regarding the route between Jet Airways and SAA predated his arrival at the Department of Public Enterprises.

Former minister of public enterprises Malusi Gigaba on Monday denied conspiring to have SAA scrap its route from Johannesburg to Mumbai to aid a Gupta-linked airline.

Appearing before the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Gigaba said the scrapping of the route was conceived long before his time at the department, and was concluded after he left.

Gigaba spent much of his time before the commission on Monday morning responding to evidence related to the national carrier and its decision to cancel a route between Johannesburg, South Africa; and Mumbai, India.

Having been scrapped by SAA, the route was relinquished to Gupta-linked Jet Airways.

Gigaba responded to evidence from former SAA CEO Sizakele Mzimela, which stated that Gigaba failed to act to prevent SAA from losing the route, to the advantage of Jet Airways - an Indian airline founded by Naresh Goyal, which the Guptas used for the controversial flight that landed in the Waterkloof military airbase in Pretoria in 2013.

Mzimela also said the airline was subjected to short notice and allegedly urgent meetings to discuss the Mumbai route with Jet Airways. During these meetings, Mzimela said, Gigaba's advisor Siyabonga Mahlangu frequently argued with SAA management.

The SAA 2017 integrated report said: "The termination of the Mumbai route in the previous years, impacted SAA's capacity for airfreight out of India, one of South Africa's biggest trading partners. SAA Cargo has entered into partnerships with other airlines but is constrained by limited capacity and high costs".

Gigaba told commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that between 2010 and 2014 there was no discussion or decision to pull the Johannesburg-Mumbai route and the decision to take down non-profitable routes would have been taken by the board and then referred to the minister for approval.

Evidence leader Advocate Anton Myburgh asked Gigaba about Mzimela's evidence that, during Gigaba's tenure, there was a grey line between board responsibility, management responsibility and delegation at the national carrier.

"Ms Mzimela should explain how many times I engaged with the board and how and how many times I as the minister engaged with management and how. During her tenure, which lasted until 2012, when I needed to meet the board outside the framework of the AGM, a special meeting would be convened as is the norm in SOEs," said Gigaba.

Myburgh asked Gigaba whether he was of the considered view or advised that Jet Airways would benefit from SAA leadership taking a decision to scrap the Mumbai-Johannesburg route. Gigaba said discussions regarding the route between Jet Airways and SAA predated his arrival at the Department of Public Enterprises.

"The CEO of SAA in 2004 had met Jet Airways in London. Subsequent to that, they had signed interline agreement and they were already existing at this time. That is why SAA says there was money owed to them due to the inability of Jet Airways to pay amounts due to SAA in line with this interline agreement," Gigaba said.

Myburgh also asked Gigaba about Mzimela's claim that Goyal came to a meeting to discuss the route two hours late and demanded SAA and the department let go of the Johannesburg-Mumbai route, suggesting that Jet Airways had a better offering for travellers.

Gigaba agreed that Goyal's tone was "arrogant" but disputed that he would have waited two hours for Goyal to arrive. He said he did not leave or end the meeting due to Goyal's perceived arrogance because it was not in his nature to end meetings merely because their tone is adversarial.

"I am perhaps different. I am not the kind of person who will leave a meeting because I do not agree with you. I will listen to you and what you have to say," he said.

Asked about the urgent meetings held in 2011 between the department and the SAA board, Gigaba said while he did advise SAA to figure out a solution to the matter of the Johannesburg-Mumbai route, he did not label the meeting as urgent.

'The route was bleeding'

"I never said that they must set up an urgent meeting. I said that they must meet further to discuss the matter. You know the route was bleeding, you know that the airline was losing money on the route, and you need to find a solution as opposed to doing nothing. Doing nothing is not good governance," said Gigaba.

Myburgh asked Gigaba why an urgent meeting was called on such short notice, which then-chair Cheryl Carolus and other board members could not attend as it was taking place the following day. Gigaba said while he was aware of the meeting and its nature, he did not know what the urgency was.

"If was not only SAA that was bleeding on the route. Jet was also bleeding on the route. Perhaps that is why Jet was anxious to conclude the agreement on the route and do so at SAA's expense which we could not allow, as SAA was also bleeding on the route," Gigaba said.

Gigaba said while he was informed of Carolus' inability to attend the meeting, he could not quite recall whether this was prior to the meeting or during the meeting itself during the registration of apologies.

Gigaba told the commission that looking at the minor details in the evidence pertaining to the Jet Airways engagement would make an observer lose sight of the fact that the decision to leave the Mumbai route was not concluded under his tenure, but in 2015 after he had left the portfolio.

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