South African Airlines check-in desk at Cape Town International Airport. Picture: Henk Kruger / African News Agency (ANA)
SAA enters the second day of a self-imposed shutdown today, pre-empting unions who vowed to do exactly the same thing after it was announced earlier this week that the embattled national flag carrier was considering laying off a fifth of its staff.

The only surprise is that it has taken this long to grasp the nettle. 

We know that our SOEs, with the exception perhaps of Telkom, are not just appallingly overstaffed and over-paid but that the levels of competency in many areas, especially technical, are parlous due to an insistence on cadre deployment.

It is not just the SOEs that fall into this category: much the same can be said of the public service. Simply put - and disregarding the politics that underpins it - we literally can no longer afford these ill-run SOEs.

SAA is the first testing ground of the government’s resolve to apply Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s dictum that we must start cutting our cloth to suit our purse. Many would argue that SAA is a vanity we neither need nor want, unlike Eskom.

The unions, mute when former president Jacob Zuma’s appointee, Dudu Miyeni, was wreaking havoc as an unimaginably delinquent board chairperson, have vowed to fight this tooth and nail.

It is not at all surprising that their unprincipled opportunism has been matched only by the EFF, which has unequivocally backed any effort that will fight the application of accepted business principles to rescue an SOE that is not failing but is functionally bankrupt.

This is President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Maggie Thatcher moment in 1985. If he blinks, his new dawn will irrevocably have become a false dawn. If he holds his nerve - and starts to lead - then, despite the heavy turbulence that still lay ahead, we will all finally have a chance of a safe landing.