Former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan on Wednesday testified how Indian airline Jet Airways pushed to have South African Airways (SAA) drop the lucrative Mumbai route so it could take over.
Hogan continued giving evidence before the state capture commission of inquiry, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. She recalled a state visit to India along with former president Jacob Zuma in June 2010.
“While there [in India], I was told by my adviser that SAA intended to terminate its Mumbai route. I was taken aback by that because SAA opened that to service a growing business and tourist route. I was also aware of a lot of SAA international routes were recording losses, Mumbai was the least loss-making route… that route was important for trade, particularly for BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa]… so I was confused,” Hogan said.
She said she then sent a text message to the then SAA board chairwoman Cheryl Carolus inquiring about the Mumbai route, seeking clarity.
Hogan continued: “She [Carolus] replied and said no, we won’t be cancelling the Mumbai route… it must be Jet Airways still bidding for this.”
Her adviser alerted her to the fact that Jet Airways CEO, a Mr Goyal, had been imposing himself during site meetings between Indian and South African officials.
“I made it clear I was not going to meet him… it really became a desperate situation from there on. We had to attend a fashion show there, and after the show, Mr Goyal caused such a scene, jumping over chairs to me and told me he wanted to see me. I told him ‘You should meet with the SAA CEO and the board… I have nothing to tell you’,” said Hogan.
Later in the same year, in August, Carolus sent her a text alerting her that Goyal would be in South Africa the following day. Hogan read out the text message: “Hi B. For your information, SAA is at Scopa tomorrow. Also note, CEO of Jet Airways will be in SA. He is lobbying hard for SAA to drop Mumbai route. Please confirm if he tries to meet with you so we can brief.”
Two months later, in October 2010, Zuma fired Hogan and replaced her with Malusi Gigaba. Jet Airways’ wishes came true as SAA later cancelled the Mumbai route.
Hogan’s testimony on the Mumbai route corroborated that of ex-MP Vytjie Mentor who testified at the commission about being offered the public enterprise minister’s post in 2010, if she agreed to cancel the Mumbai route. Mentor said she was called to a meeting by Zuma’s aide Lakela Kaunda. She was driven to the Gupta’s Saxonwold mansion where Ajay Gupta, with Zuma present in the house, told her Hogan would be fired. Gupta proceeded to offer her Hogan’s post, which she turned down.
Three years later, in 2013, a Jet Airways aircraft would land at the South African National Defence Force’s Waterkloof Airbase in Pretoria, carrying hundreds of guests from India who were headed to a Gupta family wedding in Sun City resort in the North West. The incident caused a huge public outcry.