Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)/Archives.

Cape Town - South African Airways (SAA) is likely to get a R2 billion boost from the government and another R2 billion from existing lenders as it enters rescue proceedings from December 5, a minister said on Thursday.

"It must be clear that this is not a bailout. This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline," Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, said in a statement.

SAA, which has not made a profit since 2011 and has depended on government bailouts, suffered an employee strike last month that forced it to cancel hundreds of flights and pushed it to the brink of collapse.

On Wednesday, a deputy minister, declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters he had received a letter from the secretary of the cabinet which said President Cyril Ramaphosa had called for a change of approach on SAA and instructed the government to put the airline in a "voluntary business rescue process".

Outlining what is expected from the process - which Gordhan described as the "optimal mechanism" to restore confidence in SAA as it seeks a future equity investor - Gordhan said the R2 billion provided by existing lenders will be guaranteed by the government and repayable in future budgets.

The government, via the national treasury, will provide another R2 billion in a "fiscally neutral manner" with the full recovery of capital and interest on existing debt not impacted by the rescue proceedings.

In a business rescue process, a specialist administrator takes control of a company with the aim of rehabilitating it to improve its chance of survival, or securing a better return for creditors than they would receive from liquidation.

"This initiative demonstrates that the government will undertake the necessary bold steps in order to reposition its assets in such a way that they do not continue to depend on the fiscus and thereby burden taxpayers," Gordhan said.

Reuters