President Jacob Zuma. File photo: ANA

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma on Sunday denied that government has taken a decision to move South African Airways (SAA) from the National Treasury to the transport department.

"The [media] reports are incorrect. No such decision had been taken by government," Zuma's spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said in a brief statement.

"While there are many views about where certain entities may be better located as government continues to look for ways of improving the performance of state-owned enterprises (SoEs), that does not translate into a decision.

"SAA remains located at the National Treasury where it will continue to receive support and guidance as it rebuilds itself following the appointment of a new board and CEO," Ngqulunga said.

Earlier in the day, the Sunday Times reported that only months after Dudu Myeni was removed as SAA board chairwoman following a string of scandals, she had landed a top job as adviser to Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi.

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The controversial appointment — which could see Myeni net more than R1 million a year — came as government considered moving SAA from National Treasury to the transport department, the newspaper said.

Maswanganyi confirmed there was a national review under way to move SAA to his department. He also defended the appointment of Myeni, a friend of Zuma, saying she had been “highly recommended”, but would not say by who.

“I needed someone with aviation experience… I appointed her as one of my advisers because as a minister I am allowed to appoint a maximum of three advisers without advertising the posts,” the Sunday Times reported Maswanganyi as having said.

The Democratic Alliance said it was incomprehensible that the hard-won steps towards saving SAA could be so recklessly undermined by the proposal to move the embattled airline from the National Treasury to the transport ministry – a ministry that had so fouled up the e-toll saga.

“What makes such a proposal even worse is the news that disgraced Dudu Myeni has been appointed as a ‘special’ adviser to Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi, a close ally of President Jacob Zuma,” DA spokesman Alf Lees said.

Despite any rules that may preclude her from interfering in SAA affairs, Myeni would likely ignore these and meddle in the affairs of the airline, he said.

The DA would now approach all South African banks owed the R13.8 billion SAA debt “guaranteed by the poor people of South Africa”.

“We will request that they immediately inform Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba that they will recall their loans to SAA with immediate effect should the proposal to move SAA away from National Treasury be effected and if there is any pressure put on the SAA board and CEO to run the airline as anything but a commercial enterprise,” Lees said.

Given the mess that SAA had become under the “rule” of Myeni, she surely should be ranked as the most unsuitable person to appoint as an aviation adviser.

Myeni’s removal as chairwoman of the SAA board, the appointment of a new board including an aviation expert, and most importantly the appointment of experienced executives such as Vuyani Jarana and Peter Davies signalled the start of a process to attempt to save SAA and most of the more than 10,000 jobs.

This would be in vain if the airline was once again treated as a cadre enrichment vehicle and moved back under the influence of “corporate warlord Dudu Myeni”.

“South African banks must ensure that SAA is run on purely commercial lines. They cannot allow SAA to once again become Myeni’s plaything, as poor South Africans will suffer the effects of billions of rand in losses as vital services will be forfeited in order to fund the failing airline,” Lees said.