Factionalism within the ANC and ruling party support for its ally, Cosatu, have been blamed for many of the problems facing the state-owned SAA and SABC, which were hit by dismissals and resignations yesterday.
These continuous bouts of dysfunctionality in the boardrooms of key state enterprises are harming the country’s image. The in-fighting, coupled with bailouts of more than R5 billion in guarantees for the national carrier, is indicative of the government’s broader inability to manage.
While the SABC lost its embattled chairman Ben Ngubane and deputy chairman Thami ka Plaatjie, who resigned over the controversial appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as acting chief operating officer, the SAA axed its suspended acting chief executive, Vuyisile Kona.
Ngubane apparently backed a decision by Ka Plaatjie to overrule Motsoeneng’s dismissal by the board last month. The board had placed veteran journalist Mike Siluma in the post temporarily.
The board issued an unusual rebuke at the time, saying that it was “regrettable” that Ngubane had said that Motsoeneng – understood to be a keen ally of President Jacob Zuma – had been reinstated. “Neither the chairman nor the deputy chairman… have the authority to unilaterally change a board resolution,” it said.
Meanwhile, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba announced Kona’s removal yesterday “in the interest of stability and cohesion in the leadership of the airline”. Gigaba had placed Kona on a precautionary suspension last month.
Kona had apparently demanded to be reinstated as the board chairman, a post he had vacated to act as the chief executive to replace Siza Mzimela, who resigned last October.
Kona’s appointment as the board chairman, to replace Cheryl Carolus who left with a group of board members last October, was deeply controversial, as he had seven years ago sued the SAA for more than R3.3 million.
Kona had argued that this was part of his R4.7m termination package, of which SAA had paid R1.4m. Kona said former SAA chief executive Khaya Ngqula had promised him the money.
While it has been reported that Kona was suspended this time because he had motivated the recognition of a new trade union, the National Transport Movement (NTM), which falls outside the Cosatu stable, this was denied by NTM president Ephraim Mphahlele yesterday.
“We do not have any preferred candidate (for SAA chief executive),” Mphahlele said last night, but he added that he believed Gigaba had instructed SAA’s board not to recognise the union because it was a rival to the Cosatu-affiliated SA Transport and Allied Workers Union.
“Gigaba instructed the SAA [board] not to recognise us,” Mphahlele said, adding that the ANC had taken a decision to protect Cosatu unions at state-owned enterprises. This translated into his union being “sabotaged”.
Gigaba could not be reached to respond to these allegations.
Mphahlele said the NTM, which had also had difficulty in achieve bargaining council recognition at the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), had made an application to SAA through the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to be recognised.
It had submitted 1 204 names of members, which made up the required 30 percent threshold of the 4 064 SAA workers, for recognition. However, the CCMA ruled that it did not make the threshold.
He believed the apparent connection between Kona and the NTM had been a ruse to muddy the waters.
The real issue with Kona and the SAA board had been over his appointment of advisers that apparently did not comply with the Public Finance Management Act, Mphahlele said.
Ian Ollis, the DA’s transport spokesman, said the problems at the state transport entities, including Prasa, which runs the Metrorail and intercity trains, and SAA were similar to those in the mining industry. “The government has been dead set not to recognise the non-Cosatu unions,” he said.
The problem for the unions was that if they did not get employer recognition they were not able to collect membership fees and dues from members.
“This is similar to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union issue in the mines, which was from the breakaway members of the Cosatu-allied unions,” he said.