South African Airways (SAA) former chief financial officer (CFO) Phumeza Nhantsi today concluded her two-day testimony at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture by painting an atmosphere of fear under which executives worked when Dudu Myeni was board chairperson.
Nhantsi, along with a SAA former CEO were suspended in 2018 and later dismissed following a recommendation by an internal disciplinary inquiry, for their role in relation to a tender with BNP Capital to source R15 billion in debt consolidation funds at an astronomical success fee of R256 million, that saw those close to Myeni benefiting.
Throughout her testimony, Nhantsi told deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo and commission senior counsel Kate Hofmeyer of the fear and pressure that she and her colleagues came under from Myeni, who forced them to carry out illegal instructions.
Previous witnesses who have testified before the commission, have accused Nhantsi of having pushed through questionable deals during Myeni’s tenure at the SAA board, which amounted to fraud and corruption.
These included a recommendation Nhantsi made in 2016 that BNP Capital be paid a $5 million cancellation fee, and the irregular appointment of the Free State Development Corporation to source the R15 billion capital for SAA.
While Nhantsi conceded under cross-examination that she carried out instructions from Myeni that were illegal, she blamed that on “pressure” placed on her and other senior staff.
Nhantsi: “I was scared for my life. I was never scared of losing my job because I worked hard and am skilled. But it was clear that I was eventually going to lose, especially after the cancellation of BNP Capital.
“When I joined SAA, I was very excited to be part of the team that would apparently turn the company around. However, I realised there were these political things and undue pressure coming, especially from the board.”
She said staff members were apparently routinely suspended for their failure to follow Myeni’s orders.
“Some people were suspended because they said no to decisions and instructions from the chair. You were given an instruction to do certain things which were not lawful,” said Nhantsi.
Asked by Zondo whether she sought to protect SAA interests while also protecting her own, she responded: “Yes chair, it would be fair to say so. While we were under pressure, I did not act negligently.
“I hope the commission can also understand the pressure we were under.”
Nhantsi said Myeni often allegedly used the State Security Agency (SSA) to vet staff, which she described as “strange”.
She also related a case of a senior SAA finance executive who was flagged by the SSA’s vetting for holding dual citizenship as a reason for Myeni to oust him, replacing him “with someone who could be her eyes and ears”.