A partnership between South African Airways (SAA) and Emirates would have been a "game changer" for the struggling national airline, which had for years been battling to make profit, according to evidence by a former executive who was involved in the plan which collapsed in 2015.
Sylvain Bosc, a former chief commercial officer at SAA, said by failing to sign an expanded code-sharing partnership with Emirates in 2015, SAA lost out on an opportunity to generate income and caused a great embarrassment as the deal faltered at the last minute.
Bosc, who is now senior vice president for Europe at Qatar Airways, is in the country to give evidence in a case against former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni, who is facing legal proceedings to have her declared a delinquent director.
He told the Pretoria High Court that the plan would have provided SAA with a chance to be associated with one of the biggest airlines in the world, and make profit out of it.
"It was going to be a game changer for (SAA)," he said.
The signing of the MoU was going to take place during the Paris Airshow.
The court heard that Myeni instructed then interim CEO Nico Bezuidenhout, shortly before the signing, not to go ahead and sign the MoU on June 16, 2015, in what was alleged to have been an instruction from former president Jacob Zuma.
Bosc said he was not surprised as "it was not uncommon for the chair to invoke the name of the president" to get things done.
Bezuidenhout and Bosc have spoken of the embarrassment and reputational damage suffered by SAA because of the last minute change.
Having missed out on the partnership, Emirates representatives indicated that they would escalate the matter with Zuma’s office. In his evidence, Bosc said it later emerged that the presidency apparently had no knowledge of the mooted deal.
SAA's relationship with Emirates had generated nearly R170m in annual profits as of June 2015, according to court papers.
However, Myeni maintains that the board was concerned that the benefits of the expanded MoU did not outweigh its negative implications, something which the applicants in the case intend to demonstrate as not accurate.
Bosc testified that the MoU was given a level of undue scrutiny by a member of the board in a matter which would have ordinarily passed without board approval.
He said the executive directors were normally not required to seek board approval before signing an MoU. However, the then acting CEO Nico Bezuidenhout involved them in the interest of transparency.
Prior to his departure, Bosc had been suspended by SAA following a forensic investigation by ENSafrica into various allegations that were received through the Deloittes Tip Offs hotline.
SAA alleged that Bosc has acted in an inappropriate manner in the approval of a business case to open a route between Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi. It said he "doctored the numbers for Abu Dhabi to favour the opening of this route and sold SAA out", as Fin24 reported.
Earlier, Bezuidenhout had testified that Myeni once instructed him to get rid of Bosc, alleging that there were "too many French" people in SAA.
The hearing continues.