Security at Dudu Myeni’s delinquent director trial is being beefed up after a scuffle broke out yesterday between the former SAA chair’s supporters and lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
After lunch, the court heard from advocate Carol Steinberg, who represents the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and the SAA Pilots’ Association (Saapa) in these proceedings. Steinberg said she had been verbally assaulted and her colleague was physically assaulted during the midday break.
She said this happened because they tried to stop Myeni from phoning her lawyer. Myeni was, at the time, under cross-examination and so was not allowed to consult her legal team.
“There are members of the public in the gallery here that are verbally and physically assaulting members of the plaintiff’s legal team,” said Steinberg. “I, for one, feel threatened and scared. This is not a conducive atmosphere for me to do my work”.
Judge Ronel Tolmay slammed the incident, saying: “Every litigant should feel free in a democracy to bring their case to court and present it … and to feel safe in doing so.”
She agreed to inform the judge president, as well as the police, and to request extra security.
She also warned that she had the power to find in contempt anyone who misbehaved in court. “I have the power to put you in jail. And I will do that,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the court heard that as deputy chair of Mangaung-based power utility Centlec, a position which, according to the state-owned company’s website, she still holds, Myeni earned R296,880 last year. That is almost R40,000 more than the average South African, according to Stats SA.
But Myeni still maintains she is “not employed” and yesterday described the income she received for the Centlec job as “very minimal”.
After weeks of being notably absent from the hearing, Myeni made her first appearance in court on Thursday to take the stand.
Yesterday, she was responding to questions on her decision not to come to court until now, which were put to her by Steinberg.
“Your explanation on Thursday – under oath, in this court – was that you had the means but you didn’t want to use your family’s money.
“The explanation, on affidavit, is that ‘I had no means. I had no petrol money’,” Steinberg said. “There is a vast and material difference between an indigent defendant who cannot afford to travel from Richards Bay to Pretoria and one whose family has the means but exercises the choice not to use those means.”
Myeni was, however, adamant the two statements did not contradict one another, saying: “In my private capacity, as Dudu Myeni, I am unemployed”.
Steinberg labelled this “just not true”.
“In October last year, you were the deputy chair of Centlec. Are you saying that is unpaid?” she asked.
Myeni responded that she only received R12,000 “per meeting” she attended.
“Employment means you are guaranteed an income every month,” Myeni added.
She also claimed that she “was not employed by SAA”. She added: “I was a nonexecutive director at [South African Airways] and you get paid a stipend for being on that particular board.”
But on learning that this “stipend” had totalled over R4.3 million over the course of Myeni’s five-year term, Tolmay remarked: “A stipend, as I understand it, is a very small amount.”
Myeni responded: “Being employed and being a director is totally different.”
Outa and Saapa say Myeni’s term at SAA was “marked by decay and financial ruin” and they want her barred from sitting on any boards for at least seven years. They have argued that Myeni scuppered a lucrative deal with Emirates at the last minute, and tried to insert a middleman into a leasing agreement with Airbus without board approval.
She has denied any wrongdoing in either of these instances.