SAA paid millions to boost Gupta newspaper circulation at airports

Former boss Vuyisile Kona 'not interested' whether they were even read

04 February 2020 - 17:28 By ZINGISA MVUMVU
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo heard testimony from former SAA executive Vuyisile Kona about how millions were spent on providing The New Age newspapers at airports because the paper's CEO, Nazeem Howa, complained that it was treated differently from other newspapers.
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo heard testimony from former SAA executive Vuyisile Kona about how millions were spent on providing The New Age newspapers at airports because the paper's CEO, Nazeem Howa, complained that it was treated differently from other newspapers.
Image: Alaister Russell

Remember those piles of The New Age newspaper you used to see at local airports and on board SAA flights? Your taxes paid for them.

The state capture commission heard on Tuesday that taxpayers' money was used to increase supply of the Gupta-owned newspaper from 3,000 to 7,000 copies a day. This increase in distribution cost the taxpayer R2.4m for the daily supply of extra copies.

This was in addition to the 24,000 copies supplied monthly, at a cost of R55,200 a month, as per the original agreement between The New Age and SAA entered into in 2011.

The man who approved this extra spend on the Gupta newspaper, former SAA acting chief executive Vuyisile Kona, claimed he did not even know who owned TNA.

Kona was testifying at the Zondo commission on Tuesday.

"They were not happy with the quantity ... of newspapers they were providing to the airline," said Kona of what made him to approve a R2.4m further commitment by SAA to TNA.

The most bizarre reasoning provided by former Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa - who worked for the Guptas - was that their newspaper was "treated different and they wanted to be treated equally, like other newspapers, like Business Day and The Star".

According to Kona, it was former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba's adviser Siyabonga Mahlangu who introduced Howa to him.

He said this took place between October and November 2012, which was before Kona had rejected a R500,000 gratification from Tony Gupta at a meeting at the Gupta residence.

Despite this, Kona told the commission that he was in the dark about who owned TNA.

Commission chair judge Raymond Zondo struggled to understand why Kona approved an increase of supply when he was warned by the SAA general manager of operations, who insisted that there was no budget for this.

"OK chair, the business was being reorganised, so when a business is being reorganised, everything changes," he responded.

He said that he was "using his better judgment" because there would be cost-cutting in some areas, which would free up money.

"In my better judgment, I knew that there would be surplus cash with the interventions we were putting in place," he said.

But Kona conceded that he approved the additional expenditure to TNA without knowing the circulation of the newspaper. He also conceded that he did not know that the TNA actually never had accredited readership or circulation figures.

Worse still, Kona could not tell whether anyone was reading these newspapers or picking them up at the check-in counters or on flights.

"Do you think it would have been relevant whether or not the newspaper copies were being picked up?" asked evidence leader advocate Kate Hofmeyr.

"No," was the answer Kona managed, without elaborating.


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