Mmusi Maimane, said that government could not afford to "throw billions" of rands at the loss-making national carrier, South African Airways. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

JOHANNESBURG - Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, Mmusi Maimane, said on Monday that government could not afford to "throw billions" of rands at the loss-making national carrier, South African Airways (SAA), while four children a day die of starvation in the country.

"Why keep subsidising the comparatively wealthy who can afford to fly, at the expense of the very poor and the unemployed? Why do we have to keep saving SAA? No one in government can answer this. We are propping up the failing SAA because it's just another great place for cadres and cronies to make lots of money," Maimane said.

"On Thursday, the Deputy President said that SAA is a 'national asset'. I would have thought a businessman like Cyril would know the difference between an asset and a liability. Calling SAA a national asset is not a good enough answer. Our parastatals have become massive ATMs from which the leeches who feast on our precious resources suck money every month. That’s why we keep being forced to bail out SAA."

Maimane was speaking at a billboard launch at Park Station, Johannesburg, which highlights the airline's financial losses. He said that the airline had received R35 billion in bailouts and government guarantees since 1999.

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Maimane said this took place while 4,900 children under the age of five had died over the past three years in South Africa due to severe malnutrition, as confirmed by the Department of Health earlier this year.

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba will on Wednesday address concerns about the lawfulness of the bailout given to SAA at the end of September when he delivers his medium-term budget policy statement.

Last month, Gigaba dipped into the National Revenue Fund to give SAA R3 billion to prevent it defaulting on its loan from Citibank. He had given it a R2.2 billion bailout in June, bringing the SAA bailout for the year to R5.2 billion.

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Maimane said that judging by Gigaba’s track record in all the Cabinet positions he has held so far, he was not holding his breath that the budget will serve South Africa's poor. 

Maimane said SAA must be placed into business rescue until it had stabilised, and then it must be dismantled and sold. 

"The vast sums of money we will save can be ploughed straight back into any number of programmes that directly benefit the poor," Maimane said.

"We won’t be the first country to give up its national airline, and we certainly won’t be the last either. Life will carry on after SAA, but only with more money for the poor and less for the corrupt."