Speculation is rife that Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba is about to announce a prominent member of President Jacob Zuma’s inner circle, Dudu Myeni, as the new chairperson of ailing national carrier SAA.
It is anticipated that Myeni, who is said to have a close personal relationship with Zuma, will take over at the helm of the airline in the new year.
Sources close to the board said that members of the SAA board were informed of the decision this week.
Board members are said to be concerned that a political appointment is the wrong decision during a turbulent time in the aviation industry and the national flagship carrier.
In October this year the state-owned airline reported an operating loss of R1.3 billion, citing a 33%-hike in fuel prices and increases in airport taxes.
Global market and political turbulence caused fuel price hikes during 2012, and oil prices pierced the $110-a-barrel mark.
The previous chairperson, Cheryl Carolus, made an impassioned plea to Parliament for government to recapitalise the airline to the tune of R6 billion.
Soon after the plea for state support, Carolus and seven other board members quit, amid a media storm over delays in the release of the annual results of the company and reports of conflict with the shareholder representative, Gigaba.
The resignation of the board members was followed by an announcement that then CEO Siza Mzimela and two senior managers would also bow out. They left at the end of September.
Gigaba responded to the crisis at the airline by appointing Vuyisile Kona, who is a former senior executive of SAA, as interim executive chairperson.
Gigaba also announced a task team with a mandate to present a turnaround plan for the state’s aviation assets by this weekend.
A member of the board, who declined to be named, said that the industry requires a business savvy turnaround specialist at its helm.
Public Enterprises spokesperson Richard Mantu said he could not “confirm or deny” the speculation that Myeni will be the new chairperson of SAA. He said that an official statement would be released.
Myeni is the chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation, and has courted controversy after an enquiry by the Special Investigative Unit into allegations of corruption and impropriety at the KwaZulu-Natal Water Affairs board was quashed.