Johannesburg - ANC stalwart Cheryl Carolus has told the Zondo commission that shortly after Malusi Gigaba took over as the minister of public enterprises, he had a peculiar interest in pressuring the South African Airways (SAA) board to close the Mumbai to Joburg flight route.
Carolus said Gigaba was appointed as minister in November 2010 and by December he called for a meeting with her and then SAA CEO Siza Mzimela where the SAA route was to be discussed.
Carolus said she could not make it to the meeting so she sent one of her board members to attend.
In the meeting, which was held at Gigaba's office, the minister and his deputy Ben Martins and the two SAA officials were made to wait for three hours for two gentlemen to join their meeting.
Carolus told the commission that eventually the three gentlemen arrived, one of them was the president of Jet Airways.
The former ANC deputy secretary general said the president of Jet Airways then went on to berate the SAA officials for their refusal to abandon the Joburg/Mumbai route.
Carolus said Gigaba did nothing to protect the officials and just sat there allowing the man to berate them.
Martins stepped in eventually and told the Jet Airways official that he could not speak to SAA officials in that manner.
"It was extraordinary that a minister would wait for three hours. When they arrived, one of the men was the president of Jet Airways. The minister just took a backseat and the entire discussion was led by the president of Jet Airways who started to interrogate them about why SAA had to get off that route.
"This carried on for a while and minister Gigaba did nothing and eventually deputy minister Ben Martins berated the gentleman and said he had no business coming into our country and telling us what to do," said Carolus.
The SAA officials then committed to staying on the route.
In another instance that happened, Gigaba called Carolus and asked for a meeting. Carolus said she was not in the meeting but was given feedback later.
She said in the meeting Giagaba said he wanted to talk about the Mumbai/India route. In that meeting, Gigaba again did not speak and allowed his adviser to lead the meeting.
"Gigaba said he had a few matters to discuss and one was the Mumbai/Joburg route. This was the second time that he wanted to discuss the route. Then the minister kept quite and Siyabonga Mahlangu (Gigaba's legal adviser) started to berate Ms Mzimela for SAA's refusal to let go of the Mumbai route and said to her, 'we are wasting government money and could have built lots of RDP houses with the money spent on the route',” she said.
"It was an entirely inappropriate discussion. Mzimela asserted that she took exception in being addressed in that manner. The minister then brought Jet Airways people into the meeting. Gigaba said can SAA and Jet Airways find each other on the matter,” said Carolus.
Carolus said the SAA officials asserted that this matter had been discussed and that the company was not going to let go of the route.
"Minister Gigaba said he had nothing else to discuss. It was clear that minister wanted to me to fly to Cape Town so he could appeal at the behest of Jet Airways. The minister is our shareholder and he was interested in helping Jet Airways" said Carolus.
"He never said how he could help us on the route".
Carolus said SAA eventually abandoned the route and so did Jet Airways.
The inquiry continues.IOL