End of SAA-Takatso deal was long overdue

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan

Published Mar 15, 2024


The decision to cancel the SAA-Takatso deal was long overdue and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan should be held accountable for the failed transaction shrouded in secrecy.

That’s the view of former Department of Public Enterprises director-general Kgathatso Tlhakudi, who has been at the centre of shedding light on the deal which he opposed.

In an exclusive interview with the “Cape Times” on Thursday, Tlhakudi maintained that: “The decision should have been made a long time before many resources were expended towards enabling the red flags. That Cabinet took many years is rather unfortunate.”

His remarks came a day after Gordhan announced on Wednesday that the negotiations on the transaction have been terminated as there was no agreement on the revised transaction structure. The deal, signed in February 2022, was subject to renegotiation of the terms of the transaction.

Takatso Consortium, the strategic equity partner (SEP) comprising Harith General Partners, a leading investor in African infrastructure and airports, and airline management firm Global Airways, said the revised transaction terms were no longer in the best interest of its stakeholders.

Tlhakudi said since the restructuring of SAA, the state-owned enterprise had lost more than 7 000 employees due to retrenchments as a result of the manner in which the restructuring was handled.

He alleged that Gordhan did everything in his power to drive down the value of SAA.

Tlhakudi, who is now jobless, petitioned National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in a move that prompted an inquiry by the public enterprises portfolio into irregularities (allegedly) by Gordhan in the sale of SAA shares to Takatso.

He said it was speculative that the transaction was handled in a manner that favoured Takatso.

“We have seen many javelins thrown; why would it be different with this minister? Why not believe the same was not thrown,” he said before presenting an example about politicians who on leaving public office landed roles in the public sector and amassed riches.

“Why believe this is any different with Mr Gordhan? He has to explain to all of us how his generosity was shown to Takatso and why it was not shown to others.”

Tlhakudi maintained that the SAA assets were undervalued by between R7 billion and R10bn.

“Why did he feel it necessary to give billionaires these billions he was giving them?

“There must be some self-interest.

On that basis, I say many of us are relieved that this transaction has been cancelled,” he said.

Addressing the media at a post-Cabinet briefing, Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the Cabinet supported the termination of the SAA-Takatso deal after the failed negotiations.

Ntshavheni said the government ensured that the public interest was served.

“SAA assets are now worth far more than they were during the Covid-19 pandemic when Takatso was selected as the preferred bidder,” she said.

According to Ntshavheni, the public carrier’s balance sheet was strong and the asset value had increased.

“They will be able to raise the necessary funding through the market and other commitments made by the National Treasury to support them, but there were conditions.

“If those conditions are satisfactory, the National Treasury will support SAA,” she said, adding the SOE would sustain itself within the short and medium term, like any other business.

With the SAA-Takatso deal now cancelled, the public enterprises portfolio committee will next week make a determination on its investigation, regardless of the canning of the transaction.

Asked whether the deal’s cancellation vindicated him, Tlhakudi said that was what a lot of people had been saying.

“What does vindication mean when you have lost so much? I am unemployed. If you look at my profile, I am well qualified, but I am unable to land a job.”

However, he said his solace was a “sweet victory”.

“There are many who lost their lives because they stood up and did what was right. I hope others going through the same will derive some level of satisfaction from what has happened. I hope so and remain hopeful,” Tlhakudi said.

“The auditor-general noted that there was no framework that informs the disposal of state assets,” he added.

Meanwhile, SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila said the deal was destined to benefit private commercial interests.

“The SACP calls on the Cabinet to go further. We need a thorough investigation into exactly what happened and how it happened,” he said.

ATM leader Vuyo Zungula said: “We call upon Parliament to take swift and decisive action to ensure that those responsible for malfeasance are held to account and that measures are put in place to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”

Cape Times

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