Qualified to teach -- but can she run SAA?

06 November 2014 - 16:41 By SIBONGAKONKE SHOBA

The woman in charge of South African Airways is a school teacher.

Although SAA chairwoman Dudu Myeni listed a bachelor's degree in administration as one of her qualifications when she was appointed in 2009, she mysteriously removed the degree in last year's annual report.

Responding through SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali, Myeni said she had listed the degree because she had been studying towards it.

Tlali said Myeni had not misled the public because she had disclosed in 2009 that she had two majors outstanding.

"It does not create an impression that she has a qualification she does not have," he said. "Anyone who has read the reports would not accuse her of misleading the public."

Tlali said there was nothing wrong with board members listing qualifications they had not yet obtained and then removing them.

"The fact that it is there [in previous annual reports] and not there [in last year's report] does not change anything. She has never presented herself as someone who holds a degree," said Tlali.

Myeni also listed a secondary teaching diploma, an advanced business management diploma and a certificate in management development.

Questions around Myeni's qualifications come as SABC board chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala is fighting for her job over allegations that she lied about her academic record.

Both women are said to have close links with President Jacob Zuma.

Myeni was one of only two who survived the chop when Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown booted out six of SAA's non-executive board members.

Myeni - who is also the chairwoman of the Jacob Zuma Foundation - wields so much power that insiders at SAA believe she had a hand in the removal of Brown's predecessor, Malusi Gigaba, who is now minister of home affairs.

Gigaba's departure came as a shock to many because he appeared to have brought stability to many state-owned companies, including SAA.

The board members who have now been ousted had complained to Gigaba about Myeni's leadership and accused her of ignoring governance processes.

The board members claimed Myeni had interfered in procurement processes and changed the decisions of board meetings without the approval of the board.

To defuse tension within the board, Gigaba is said to have made four attempts to call a meeting, but Myeni never pitched up.

In April, just before the elections, Gigaba summoned the board to a meeting in Sunninghill in the presence of his deputy and the department's director-general, an insider who attended the meeting said.

"She made Gigaba wait almost the whole day. When he [Gigaba] called her she said she was in Pretoria - when she is done with her meeting she is going to come. But she never arrived," the insider said.

Gigaba's spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete declined to comment.

Some senior managers have quoted Myeni as boasting before the elections that she was going to get rid of Gigaba and her opponents on the board.

"She said she was going to deal with Gigaba, get rid of the board and then the CEO," said the insider.

Tlali dismissed these claims as "baseless and mischievous gossip".

But insiders say the rift between Gigaba and Myeni deepened when the minister pulled the plug on a R60-billion tender to acquire 22 wide-body aircraft.

The board complained that Myeni had issued the request for proposals without their consent and without informing Gigaba.

But Tlali said the purchase of the aircraft was in line with the airline's turnaround strategy, which had been handed to Gigaba.

In addition, Myeni allegedly arranged a meeting with one of the bidding companies during the procurement process. The Sunday Times has seen the e-mail in which Myeni invited other board members to her meeting with aircraft manufacture Airbus in October last year.

"I would like to invite you if [you are] available to join me in my meeting with Airbus on Wednesday October 16," it said.

"We shall confirm the venue before the end of business on Monday. The purpose of the meeting is to communicate a few issues as was discussed at the meeting where the shareholder representative raised concerns re: A320 acquisition."

In the e-mail, Myeni said a meeting with another bidder, Boeing, had not been confirmed.

Insiders say board members cautioned her about holding a meeting with Airbus during the bidding process.

But Tlali said there was nothing unusual about such a meeting.

In May last year, Myeni allegedly attempted to change the minutes of a board meeting at which it was decided to acquire 10 narrow-body aircraft through Pembroke finance - a Dublin-based company that provides services such as aircraft leasing, financing and management.

"She wrote to Gigaba saying it was two aircraft instead of 10. Board members caught her and she never apologised. Gigaba tried to arrange a meeting for us to talk but she refused," said the SAA insider.

Myeni is also accused of failing to attend a number of meetings while drawing a R65000 monthly retainer from the airline.

The axed board members are said to have also gone to Brown with accusations of Myeni's "incompetence", but they were removed and she survived.

Zuma's spokesman Mac Maharaj denied that Myeni had influenced the president's decision to move Gigaba from public enterprises.

"Minister Gigaba was not removed as minister of public enterprises. He served his term and completed it.

"The term of government as a whole expired in May 2014 and when the president took the oath of office, all ministers automatically lost their posts as the term of government expired. There is never a guarantee that ministers return to their old portfolios after an election. They may not return or the president, using his prerogative, may deploy them elsewhere, where he feels he needs their expertise most," said Maharaj.