Hein Kaiser
Journalist
3 minute read
29 Apr 2022
6:58 am

SAA interim boss steps down

Hein Kaiser

Kgokolo leaves behind unanswered questions about the SAA Alpha Floor incident in February last year which the airline repeatedly refused to answer.

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana labelled SAA as a fiscal drain, adding the disposal of the government’s shareholding in the airline is justified. Picture: iStock

South African Airways (SAA) interim chief executive Thomas Kgokolo will leave the airline at the end of the month. Company chair John Lamola will assume the reigns as Executive Chair from May. SAA said the outgoing interim chief executive elected not to renew his contract.

In a statement released on Thursday night the airline hinted at readying itself for the long overdue Takatso Consortium takeover.

The likely purchase of a majority stake in SAA was first announced ten months ago by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan wherein government retains a minority shareholding with equity partners Harith Investments and Global Airways, owner of hybrid carrier Lift. Former Comair boss Gidon Novick was named to lead the Takatso consortium.

Kgokolo oversaw the relaunch of the airline after exiting business rescue and the death knell of low-cost subsidiary Mango along with hundreds of jobs. Chair John Lamola signed Mango’s death sentence last year, preventing it from resuming operations, when he refused to release bailout funds intended as working capital for the ailing carrier and said, in a letter shown to The Citizen in November last year:  “SAA as the sole shareholder of Mango was not in a position to provide nor to motivate to SAA’s shareholders for any capital injection required to return Mango to commercial operations.”

ALSO READ: SAA Board signs Mango’s death sentence

Mango sale almost finalised

Still in business rescue and sans most of its personnel after a swathe of retrenchments, the budget airline’s sale to private investors is expected to be finalised in May.

According to previous reports, the extended deadline for filtered bidders was 21 April with a final deal expected by the end of next week. Parliament will then have until the end of May to approve the deal, where after it goes to the Competition Commission for an okay.

SAA Alpha floor mystery remains

Kgokolo also leaves behind unanswered questions about the SAA Alpha Floor incident in February last year which the airline repeatedly refused to answer.

The incident comprised a narrowly missed crash after crew allegedly did not follow procedure to correct a known flaw on the aircraft’s computer system on departure and, on the way back from its Belgian vaccine run, the same operating pilots transgressed European noise pollution regulations.

The outgoing CEO promised to release the incident report by last year August, but subsequent enquiries were met with no comment from the airline and civil aviation.

Lamola’s credentials lauded

In its statement SAA quoted its Lead Independent Non-Executive director, Ms Bembe Zwane: “Thomas took the job of CEO as leader of a cohort of a Transition Management Team. He was generous enough to offer his professional services under a short term contract which we have eagerly extended on numerous occasions. Thomas has requested that his contract not be renewed. We appreciate the time he has given to SAA and look forward to the leadership of the executive team by John Lamola.”

SAA rolled out Lamola’s credentials. He was appointed as non-executive chair of the SAA Board in July last year.

Lamola is an Associate Professor at the Institute for Intelligent Systems of the University of Johannesburg and holds a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh. SAA also said that he holds an MBA from a premier tertiary institution of education in aviation and aerospace studies in the United States, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. 

He was the CEO of Denel Aviation between 1996 and 2001 and also served on the ACSA Board for five years until 2017.

SAA also said that Lamola has managed a proprietary portfolio of private equity investments through a number of privately held companies, including an aviation consulting firm, Baji Aviation Service.

In SAA’s statement Lamola indicated that the business strategy of SAA remains intact and on course as the Board  and the Ministry of Public Enterprises  are “steadfastly pursing their goal of a sustainable SAA for the good of the entire South African economy”.