The former head of procurement at South African Airways Technical (SAAT), Nontsasa Memela has said that she may have “ruffled a lot of feathers” when she pushed the transformation agenda at the entity, which was largely untransformed when she assumed her role.
She also took issue with the perception that when a black official interacts with a black businessperson, fraud or corruption is involved.
Memela raised the issue on Friday while giving testimony at the commission of inquiry into state capture on how she first met the director of JM Aviation, Vuyo Ndzeku.
JM Aviation and American-based AAR Corporation were in 2016 awarded a SAAT tender to supply components for five.
Memela told the chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that she first met Ndzeku at a workshop in 2015. She said the purpose of the workshop, which was one of many, was to inform black-owned suppliers about the numerous opportunities within the aviation industry.
She said during these workshops she chatted to a number of black businesspersons and these conversations went beyond such gatherings.
One of these suppliers is founding director of SRS Aviation, Sibongile Rejoice Sambo, Memela said.
Giving her testimony at the commission earlier this week, Sambo accused Memela of assisting JM Aviation with its bid documents so that it would score the R1.2 billion contract it was awarded in 2016 along with AAR Corporation.
In her responding statement, Memela denied this allegation.
“I had that responsibility which was actually recorded on my job description … supplier development BEE is part of my job description, chair,” Memela said.
She added that supplier development black economic empowerment (BEE) was also part of the enterprise supplier development strategy kick-started in 2014.
Memela also testified that SAAT had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the department of trade and industry (DTI) to “push the transformational agenda”.
“The role that I played was to be as close as possible to these BEE suppliers,” Memela said, adding that when she arrived at SAAT there were no BEE suppliers on the entity’s database.
“Chair, I might have ruffled a lot of feathers by doing that because for the first time at SAAT, as a state-owned company, they had somebody who was pushing so hard for black people,” Memela said.
She said at some point, questions investigators, whether from Open Water or Ernst & Young, posed which implied that she had had corrupt relations with BEE suppliers, made her “lose it”.
“The view in South Africa is that once you interact with a black supplier being a black person, automatically there’s fraud or corruption involved. So I had to deal with all those things,” Memela said.
She commented that had Sambo successfully won the tender with AAR, she would still be on the witness stand at the commission defending herself from accusations from another black businessperson would most likely accuse her of favouring Sambo.
Sambo’s testimony earlier in the week was that she had approached AAR and made the company aware of opportunities at SAAT and how she was eventually sidelined by the corporation despite having done some work for it.
Memela said there were a number of evergreen contracts that SAAT entered into with white-owned suppliers which had not been reviewed.
“I’m not playing the race card, chair, but I’m just stating the facts I met at SAAT when I took over this position,” Memela said.
She said when she assumed her role at SAAT she had issued the instruction that if suppliers wanted to win tenders at the entity they should ensure that they meet the requirements in terms of supplier development BEE, adding that she even toured Europe to explain to multinationals the country’s laws around transformation.
Memela further said that some white-owned companies have had contracts at SAAT since 1999 but “nobody questioned that”, adding that no one monitored that the national industrial participation programme (NIPP) obligations were being adhered too.
Memela complained that no investigator had bothered to look through her emails or laptop to pick up that she had on several occasions pushed the transformation agenda.
“The focus is only on JM,” she said.
She said when Open Water was brought in at SAAT in 2015, the entity was losing assets worth millions of rands but still, the investigators were selective and had overlooked instances involving white people where monies were lost.
Zondo invited Memela to submit any evidence she might have relating to corruption, however, which falls within the inquiry’s terms of reference.