'I wasn't a minister, so why blame me?' — former SAAT head at Zondo commission

Former SAA Technical procurement boss Nontsasa Memela signs off after four days of testimony at state capture inquiry

12 February 2020 - 16:42 By ZINGISA MVUMVU
Commission chair Raymond Zondo has listened to four days of testimony from former SAAT official Nontsasa Memela.
Commission chair Raymond Zondo has listened to four days of testimony from former SAAT official Nontsasa Memela.
Image: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele

“It is 11.20am — let us take the tea break and return at 11.35am. We adjourn,” declared state capture commission chair judge Raymond Zondo on Wednesday.

A second after Zondo stepped out the back door, a jubilant Lindelwa Mbanjwa, legal representative to Memela, the former head of supply chain management at SAA Technical (SAAT), erupted into a loud applause all by herself — much to surprise of onlookers, evidence leaders and investigators of the commission.

Mbanjwa was visibly pleased with how her client dribbled the Zondo commission for four days.

In fact, as they walked past the media gallery, she gave a big hug to her client and declared: “Your performance today was superb!” in isiXhosa.

Wednesday was the fourth day that Memela was in the hot seat to answer accusations about her alleged role in a controversial R1.3bn contract for aircraft components. The contract was awarded to US company AAR Corporation in partnership with local BEE partners JM Aviation in 2016.

Throughout the entire four-day testimony, Memela denied any wrongdoing as the then head of procurement at SAAT. She said she had been implicated by people who opposed her pro-transformation posture while at the ailing national airline.

Even questions about the R2.5m the director of JM Aviation paid towards the purchase of her house and an AAR-sponsored trip to the US did not shake her. She had answers for every question, always attempting to absolve her of any wrongdoing.

Memela eventually concluded her evidence at lunchtime on Wednesday with some hostile closing remarks.

“There is nowhere I influenced the decision to award the contract to AAR and JM Aviation and there is nowhere I ever influenced any decision by any department at SAAT to pay [the two companies]," she said.

“It seems that all of a sudden now that I am outside SAAT, everyone is now feeling free to point things [sic] at Nontsasa because she is no longer there. Other say they were never at meetings and because there are no cameras, there's no way to prove that they were.

“Then there is Mr Schalk Human, who has never seen me [and doesn't know me] from a bar of soap but is comfortable enough to come here and talk about me,” she said of the current acting head of procurement at SAAT, who testified at the commission before Memela.

“Because of this, I end up not understanding what kind of a role did I play at SAAT. It is as if I was far more senior than the board. Even [if] I did not know better, I would say maybe, unknowing to myself, I would say I was a minister giving instructions to everyone.

“But the reality is that I reported to people. I was the HoD [of supply-chain management] and I played my role to the best of my ability. I've had to answer here on behalf of the acting CEO — and the list goes on, so no, I did not have any influence,” she said before rising from the hot seat.