23.5.2012 Malusi Gigaba Minister of Public Enterprises addressing the Tshwane International Trade and Infrastructure Investment Conference which opned at the CSIR convention centre on Monday. Picture: Etienne Creux

Mystery shrouds the appointment of Duduzile Myeni on Friday as the acting chairwoman of SAA. The Department of Public Enterprises failed to clarify why it had appointed Myeni, who has little airline experience and is closely linked to President Jacob Zuma.

Myeni’s appointment by Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba has attracted criticism, not least from the opposition DA because of her current position as chairman of the Jacob Zuma Foundation.

Her appointment comes at a critical time for SAA, which is addressing challenges that include creating leadership stability and the development of a long-term strategy. The national carrier is exploring new aircraft deals to replace its ageing fleet and modifying routes to focus more on Africa.

Myeni was not available for comment.

SAA chief executive Siza Nzimela resigned in October following a dramatic walkout by the SAA board under then chairwoman Cheryl Carolus over a breakdown in the relationship with Gigaba and his department, the key stakeholder as the line department overseeing the government’s stake. This was shortly before the airline announced a R1.3 billion operating loss for the year to March.

The running of SAA now rests on the shoulders of acting individuals. Myeni, who was a non-executive board member of SAA, was made acting chairwoman with immediate effect.

She replaces Vuyisile Kona, who has been acting chairman and acting chief executive following Nzimela’s departure.

He remains acting chief executive. Gigaba’s department said in a statement that the minister had reviewed Kona’s status at a board meeting on December 7 and separated Kona’s two roles “owing to adherence to the principles of good corporate governance”.

“One of the critical responsibilities that the acting chairperson will be expected to embark upon is to reinforce leadership stability at SAA and initiate a robust recruitment process for the appointment of a new [chief executive] to ensure continuity in the airline’s business operations,” Gigaba’s department said.

Guy Leitch, an aviation industry commentator, said: “SAA cannot afford [a chairperson] without extensive airline experience.”

An analyst, who declined to be named, said: “Somebody needs to pick the minister’s brain and find out what he is doing because there’s chaos across the state-owned enterprises.”

Natasha Michael, the DA’s spokeswoman on public enterprises, criticised Myeni’s appointment, saying it would be “another gross example of the ANC’s ‘jobs for friends’ ideology and must be fully justified by… Gigaba”.

Michael added: “What SAA needs now is a strong and respected leader with an impeccable record, particularly with regards to managing financial matters. In Dudu Myeni, SAA will get none of these.”

She cited a previous report by the Mail & Guardian in May about senior officials in the Department of Water Affairs who recommended that Myeni not be reappointed as chairwoman of the Mhlatuze Water Board, a position she held since 2006, because “she would bring instability back into the board and was at the centre of the current crisis and disharmony” at the utility.

Michael said “the most shocking elements of her less than sterling record” included judgments against Myeni for millions of rand owed to two local banks, a Special Investigating Unit (SIU) investigation into maladministration, unfair dismissal of staff and abuse of state resources between 2004 and 2008 at Mhlathuze Water Board.

The SIU had to abandon its investigation after papers were shredded and computer files were deleted. This is also according to reports in the Mail & Guardian.