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South Africa: Turning around SAA ‘won’t be easy’ – Chairman Qhena

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg
Posted on Tuesday, 27 April 2021 17:27

A South African Airways (SAA) plane is towed at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg
A South African Airways (SAA) plane is towed at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 18, 2020. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Thomas Kgokolo, the new CEO of the struggling state-owned carrier South African Airways (SAA), and his executive team promise to hit the ground running in coming weeks, meeting with important stakeholders in efforts to rebuild confidence in the entity. Chairperson Geoff Qhena spoke to The Africa Report at length about the delicate task at hand as SAA prepares to exit business rescue and resume operations.

But the road ahead for the troubled flagship airline is not going to be easy, says Qhena. The board has appointed Kgokolo interim CEO and other executives to ensure an orderly changeover from business rescue and a safe landing to normalised operations.

SAA’s business rescue practitioners (BRPs) had set 31 March 2021 as the end date for the process. However, the airline remains in business rescue, which is expected to conclude any day now, pending the fulfilment of certain regulatory and administrative requirements.

The carrier was placed under business rescue in early December 2019, a process which has cost millions of rands — and counting.

Qhena is a seasoned professional, having cut his teeth in the state-owned enterprises space: his most recent high-profile position was chief executive of Industrial Development Corporation, a development financier. Qhena, a qualified chartered accountant, vacated that post in 2018.

“It will be disingenuous of us to say it’s going to be easy going forward. It’s not going to be,” says Qhena.

That is why the interim board has roped in Kgokolo and others to steer the operational end of SAA’s move out of business rescue. The board’s mandate is limited to oversight, while operations are reserved for executive management.

Kgokolo is also a chartered account and holds an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science, where he was a lecturer of corporate finance.