SAA planes at OR Tambo International Airport, 14 November 2019. Picture: Neil McCartney
In a move reminiscent of the Zuma administration, a statement released close to midnight this past week notified the country that South African Airways (SAA) has been put into business rescue.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has done a lot to move away from these kind of midnight shenanigans that were clearly designed to give the country, and especially print media, no time to carry the breaking news as most of them would have gone to print by midnight.
Clearly, this “hiding in plain sight” move by the previous administration was for devious reasons. But in the case of SAA, the president made the announcement to put the airline into business rescue for good reasons.
This is probably Ramaphosa’s bravest and most decisive move since assuming power. He could have followed in the footsteps of all of this country’s past presidents and simply gone into the country’s coffers, taken out a couple of tens of billions of taxpayers’ money and given it to the board of SAA.
Even worse, he would have gotten the finance minister to announce that there’ll also be a few more billions that will be given to the struggling airline in a few months’ time.
Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan would be justifying why the state-owned airline had to be given this money despite its horrible record in dealing with its finances.
In other words, the president could have taken that easy way out. Yet he didn’t, and that needs to be acknowledged and applauded.
The rot at all state-owned enterprises (SOEs) has to be stopped by someone brave because those that benefit from these institutions being a mess always fight back, and viciously so.
There are so many service providers who benefitted from this country’s taxpayers’ money from SOE’s without providing a service at all.
So many boards of directors at SAA and Eskom have earned money while in effect the only job they did was to aid those looting money.
Workers’ unions have not really helped either. In recent times all they have seemed ready to do is sing the almost empty lines “so many jobs will be lost and we can’t allow that to happen.” They would rehash that line as though it has superior logic built into it: “We know government will do anything to divert billions into SAA because they’ll look bad if they shed jobs.”
The truth of the matter is, the amount of bailouts that SAA got over the years made the whole country poorer.
This kind of bravery by the president needs to be demonstrated across the board when it comes to SOEs. The only bailout they must receive must be to keep the institutions going as they turn themselves around or equity partners are being sought. Not the kinds of obscene amounts that not only propped up these institutions only for the likes of the Guptas to come bleed them dry.
With SAA in business rescue now, it is inconceivable that it can still be looted.
SAA has been likened to a sick person who has been refused proper medical help for a long time. Finally, a sane family member in the form of the president and his administration decided to not only place the patient in hospital but to ensure they get the attention they need and deserve.
The next step must be for the president to realise SAA should not be the only patient in this ward.
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