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SAA pilots did not run the airline into the ground – Saapa

Nor are they responsible for the level of transformation in the aviation sector.
The author says unfounded accusations made by former SAA chair Dudu Myeni continue to be taken seriously, to the detriment of the airline. Image: Waldo Swiegers, Bloomberg

The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) and the South African Airways (SAA) businesses rescue practitioners (BRPs) have been very vocal recently in their criticism of the pilots of SAA and the SAA Pilots’ Association (Saapa).

It is not surprising that the DPE and the BRPs have been silent on the [high court] judgment [handed down on May 27, 2020] that DPE-appointed former SAA chair Dudu Myeni was, in the words of Judge Ronel Tolmay: “… a director gone rogue, [who] did not have the slightest consideration for her fiduciary duty to SAA”.

Compounding their complicity in not holding Myeni to account, neither the DPE nor the BRPs Siviwe Dongwana and Les Matuson have made any public statement about the looting and corruption at SAA and SAA Technical that was not only identified in seven SAA forensic reports but has now been exposed at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state capture.


The BRPs are compelled by Section 141 of the Companies Act to recover the misappropriated assets of SAA, and investigate and rectify voidable transactions. Further, they have not taken the necessary steps to rectify matters regarding Myeni’s failure to perform her material obligations relating to the company.

Instead, the DPE and the BRPs are painting the pilots as the villains and attempting to blame them for the airline’s lamentable situation.

SAA signed the agreement, now says it is unlawful

At the heart of their criticism is the pilots’ regulation agreement (RA), which they say – without proof – is unlawful.

While this agreement between SAA and Saapa has been in existence since 1988, the latest version was signed in early 2014. The RA covers, protects and sets the terms and conditions of all pilots in SAA, regardless of race or gender – and to pretend that this is an apartheid-era agreement is illogical and as fallacious as claiming that any agreement or legislation from before 1994 only entrenches the rights of a select few. This disingenuous claim is a further attempt by the DPE to distract from its own failings and contribution to SAA’s demise.

SAA had many profitable years from the time the agreement came into effect in 1988, most notably from 2009 to 2011, until Myeni’s appointment by the DPE.

Read: How did an outsider get to call the shots on Eskom? (Oct 2020)

Blaming the RA for SAA’s lack of profitability and financial distress cannot be, and is not, correct.

Seniority system a crucial aviation safety component

One of the SAA and DPE’s chief complaints is the seniority system, a system that is used in almost all airlines in the world and is a crucial safety component in protecting pilots and allowing them to make decisions in the best interests of safety at all times – even when this conflicts with the commercial interests of the airline.

In essence, if there are 1 000 pilots in an airline and a new pilot joins, that pilot will become number 1 001. You climb the seniority system when an airline expands, and when pilots retire.

This system is accepted by pilots throughout the world as the fairest system and regulates most aspects of a pilot’s career at the airline.

All pilots are required to meet the same high standards of competence in an airline. Without a seniority system, pilots could be chosen for promotion because they have friends in management – or could be punished and kept out of promotion for taking safe decisions that result in increased costs to the airline.

The DPE claims that this system is unlawful because it holds back transformation and does not allow for the acceleration and promotion of pilots from the designated groups as defined in the Employment Equity Act.

What the DPE fails to mention is that it is not the seniority system that has not accelerated the advancement of designated group pilots, it is the fact that the airline has shrunk to a shadow of its former self as a result of the mismanagement and dereliction of oversight over its affairs by the board and the DPE themselves.

From 2000 to 2009, SAA employed 812 pilots. Over the last 11 years this was reduced to just 625 before business rescue, and this will shortly be cut to 88 pilot positions.


It is the very same shareholder and management who shrunk and mismanaged SAA that are now trying to blame the pilots for the catastrophic effects this will have on representivity of designated group pilots on the flight deck of aircraft in South Africa.

The airline has, for several years, and with Saapa’s concurrence, employed only designated group pilots as new entry pilots.

This was done irrespective of whether or not there were more qualified and experienced white pilots who had applied.

If the airline had expanded by as little as 3% a year, the designated group pilots’ progress would have been accelerated. Instead of expanding SAA, the shareholder has chosen to expand Mango, a subsidiary of SAA, to the detriment of SAA.

There are very few designated group pilots at Mango, partly due to SAA hiring the majority of designated group pilots in the industry.

SAA is the most transformed airline in the country at pilot level, at one stage employing 85% of all holders of an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) licence from the designated groups.

It must also be recognised that it is SAA that employs pilots and is responsible for the demographic composition of the pilot group, not Saapa.

The cost of training a pilot

Saapa acknowledges that the availability of designated group pilots has been a challenge for the industry. This is as a result of the enormous cost, almost R1 million per pilot, in order for someone to qualify as an airline transport pilot, and even then, that pilot does not yet have the skills and experience to take the controls of a large, high performance jet transport aircraft.

Source: South African Civil Aviation Authority Annual Report 2019/20

It is not difficult to see that the availability of designated group pilots is a major impediment to transformation of the industry and definitely not one that can be blamed on Saapa. At one stage SAA ran a cadet pilot programme that greatly assisted in the talent pipeline of designated group pilots, but this scheme was stopped due to a lack of funding – again caused by the mismanagement of SAA.

The Transport Seta, or Teta, has poured over R140 million into pilot training but has been able to produce fewer than 30 ATP licence holders for that significant investment.

Combined with the fact that the South African Air Force is no longer capable of producing a significant quantity of pilots, partly due to defence funds being spent on the corrupt Arms Deal, this has left South Africa without a significant pool of qualified and experienced airline transport pilots from the designated groups.

The lack of transformation in the country and at SAA cannot be levelled at the pilots. SAA does the hiring, and the government should have been doing more to train and develop designated group pilots at grassroots level and ensure their funds were correctly and appropriately spent.

Pilots are a high profile group and are, due to SAA’s hiring policies and the low availability of suitably qualified designated group pilots, still majority white males. It is all too easy to attack SAA pilots on this aspect and for them to be used as scapegoats.

Myeni’s moves still in play

Questions should be asked of the DPE and the BRPs as to why they are echoing and repeating the unfounded attacks on SAA’s pilots first flighted by the notorious and delinquent Myeni – a distraction that Myeni attempted while she was in fact bankrupting the airline.

She did absolutely nothing to expand SAA and improve representivity among the pilot group, and the DPE, which had appointed her, ignored the fact that she was running SAA into the ground.

Were it not for Saapa and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) which, at a cost of millions of rands, did the DPE’s work and had her declared a ‘delinquent director’, Myeni would probably still be destructively at the helm of SAA.

The final complaint about the RA being ‘evergreen’ and that it does not have a termination date is spurious and irrelevant. SAA and Saapa are entitled to table items for negotiation twice a year, and have done so every year.

Ongoing concessions

Saapa has agreed over the years to make multiple changes to the agreement, and amended the agreement in 2009 to incorporate changes that resulted in R160 million worth of verified, audited and ongoing annual concessions.

It is not only possible to amend the agreement despite the fact that it does not have a termination date, but it must be noted that SAA has tabled several significant demands recently, most of which have been accepted by Saapa.

SAA and the DPE have treated their pilots – including pilots from the designated groups – and other employees with complete disdain.

All our pilots joined the airline to fulfil a lifelong ambition to fly for the national carrier. Others are pilots who have given their entire careers in dedication to the service of SAA. All their dreams have been shattered.


Grant Back is chair of Saapa.



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Au contraire, if a pilot had been running SAA and not successive delinquent wanna be’s it would have been successful.


Seems the R-card is dead – blaming Apartheid is a bit silly (but not dead) and now, the best excuse is – BLAME THE PILOTS!!!

Ytp … it’s as simple as black and white.

A good example of this is the Nic Vlok.

Time to change the name to


The comrades are good at sinking a success!


Typical of SAA ‘management’ to blame the pilots, looking for a scapegoat to blame. But never will the fault be with management. Always someone else. Unless these people that are responsible for managing SOE’s take responsibility for their mismanagement nothing will change. All SOE’s are doomed to fail, always.

Because “management” does not form part of the anc’s vocabulary, but the opposite thereof (mismanagement) is used in full force word

This attack on pilots beggars belief and inspires vomit. But if the majority are so brain dead as to believe anything their tribal leaders tell them then it is way past time to give up on democracy and vote for the rule of the tested-as-educated for the benefit of all, especially the otherwise self-damaging.

It did not take long for the Business Rescuers to dance to the governments beat. Blerrie Traitors.

LOL but the brown envelopes were so full ne !!!!

It must be blatantly clear for the white SAA pilots for quite some time now that they were on a road to nowhere thanks to the ANC cadre appointments and the incompetence and corruption that goes with it. Add to this the racist BEE policies and the dishonest way they have been treated by SAA it is clear that their future lies elsewhere. At a time were flying generally has been reduced to a fraction of what it was still 14 month ago they are in a difficult situation. Most people I know had a reduction in income and therefore in lifestyle. Quite a number have lost their job. In the Western world the middle class is being decimated by design and so is the first world component of South Africa. All I will to with regards to SAA is to ensure that nobody of my family , neither my companies will ever spend a cent on SAA or Mango in future in the unlike event that SAA gets some planes to fly again.

They should have been blowing whistles, however SAA was mostly run into the ground by o’ANC and o’Dudu.

Les Muttonhead and Siviwe Donglekopf have dealt a mortal blow to the concept and the credibility of Business Rescue as envisaged by the Companies Act. Shame on them and shame on the Department of Public Enterprises that aided and abetted them.

The arrogance and ignorance displayed by the DPE and SAA is mind boggling. What a bunch of gutless wonders!

Expect more of this infantile finger pointing as more and more cadres are exposed for their corruption and ineptitude. It’s always someone else’s fault with the ANC, all the way back to van Riebeeck.

Why are the tax payers paying for this? When will you stand up for your right and protest the miss use of money for the benefit of the elites.

Any country that allowed this sort of nonsense to continue is bound to fail. There is no Production in destruction!

Really great article and the story is actually just a superb example of what has occurred across just about every single facet of South Africa’s social, government and business fabric. When you use an arbitrary criteria that does not have experience, training and merit at its core for advancement then you will for one reason or another then fail. This was true for the slow fall of apartheid over 50 or so years and its true for 20 years of BBBEE and cadre deployment.
Get this right and we have can start this country moving ahead instead of backwards.

Mr. Zuma’s Midas touch. Whatever Mr. Zuma touched turned into?

Hehehe. And it seems he had more than the golden touch with his flying Mattress ol DoDo Myeni……

I will definitely not fly with this airline.

How can something like this be in proper shape from a safety perspective?

I have stopped flying SAA more than a decade ago and still paying for it!

Anyone ever checked if these business rescue practitioners have ever rescued an airline? In fact have they actually rescued anything??

The pilots are the well skilled and trained people who keep the airways biggest asset safely in the air from point a to point b and back as requested by the management of the specific airways and has nothing to do with the on the ground financial management of saa – till today it seems in “new sa” neither the new management of saa, dpe or brp has any grip on this concept, just to save their own backsides. On that basis all 3 parties involved have very limited insight, if at all, but wants to blame somebody else for their own continues management mess up.
by the way, as far as i remember, i may be wrong, but wasn’t zuma the man who wanted a new presidential plane???

They even know that Geneva is not in France!

Maybe SAAPA should challenge the practitioner’s registration at CIPC if they have not already done so?

I doubt it very much that anyone will ever believe that the pilots are to blame for the state of affairs at SAA.

It will be so ridiculous that people will not even waste time on it.

Sadly, they will believe it and blame other people for situation at hand instead of actually dealing with it.

12 Rules of Life (Book)

Day to day, you may lie to the outside world to get what you want and to avoid pain. You tell lies to appear more competent, to gain status, to be well-liked, to prevent conflict. This is you manipulating the world.

On a deeper level, you may lie to yourself about what you want. You might have a dream life envisioned by your younger self, without probing carefully into whether you really want it (career and retirement goals are common examples here). You may entertain ideas about what you really want, but deceive yourself into thinking they’re impossible to reach or undesirable after all. You then act in ways that you paper over with more lies, but deep down you know it’s inconsistent with your beliefs, and you feel unsettled.

Beware of the big lie (in Hitler’s terms) something so large and audacious that you cannot accept someone would intentionally fabricate it. This could be about who to blame for your faults, or what you should do with your life. – Jordan Peterson

I also used to believe this, that is that people are really not that stupid and will ultimately figure out the truth. I have found numerous examples in my own experience that disprove this. It gets even better that even when you produce traceable evidence based facts as above (not just prima facie evidence) they still do not believe that what was told to them was a lie and what is even more shocking this is not done by stupid people. Also the argument then goes to how do you determine intelligence, in my opinion this is not necessary, what you need to ask in cases such as this is how much intelligence do you need to figure this out and in my opinion not a lot is needed.

See PurgeCoin’s reply with examples of this in history. Also go to court with something that you would consider an open and shut case and counsel will always tell you that your chances are 50/50.

I must also add that when these guys and for that matter PR professionals put this kind of BS out they are fully aware that their dumbed down lie (not the complicated evidence as noted above) will be believed by many. Look at WMC created by an upper class English Girl at Bell Pottinger and it is to this day still being used.

In Africa people are that stupid and if a whites are involved in Africa they are automatically blamed and racists.

The problem with SAA is the same as with most SOEs i.e. the policies and quality of its shareholder who appoints the board and management. This is the rudderless, corrupt and incompetent ANC.

Its fine to blame Dudu but she was allowed to behave the way she did for many years as the ANC chose to look the other way as they did with SAPS, SARS, Eskom etc.(right now we have a defence force with 10% less generals than the US which has 10 times the personnel-anything done about this?)

SOE failure is the responsibility of the ANC and its leaders including the now well chastised (by that mean Advocate in public) former pharmacist. Jamnadas should resign!

Not quite Sam. As far as the ANC (or its “elites”) anyway, Dudu did just fine, ensuring a nice flow of loot into their pockets. All the Gordhan crocodile tears now are fake; he knew all along and is just trying to keep the same front for ANC looting going; just under another dishonest pretext. As he thinks he is cleverer than the rest, he sells it with unctuous grease but the rotten, thieving parasite is the same.

I wonder who they will blame next? any volunteers? any takers?

Jan Van Riebeeck…….cause he introduced those stupid ideological things called rules, training, competency sjoe – and even that was a mouthful.
My concern is that the current crop of children in “school” are so inept at Maths and Science, and the Uni brigade are way too busy learning how to get out of paying for anything and just coasting in flashy cars that tenders pay for – what quality of pilots are we going to produce.
SAA has had an exceptional run of good safety – but what does the future hold. That is the golden question we should be asking.

Pravin Godhans credibility is down the toilet after reading this.

Like saying bus drivers were for the downfall of Greyhound

Dumb m^%$f%$s. I will pay whatever it costs to NOT fly SAA again.

Not event an again here.Have avoided SAA since my first flight on egyptair in 1995 .The airline and everything around it reeks of the cANCer

dont blame pilots for your corruption and looting.

I have a solution. Send learner pilots to Cuba to be trained. With our doctors.

The pilots didn’t run it into the ground. The ANC did. The pilots were mere highly skilled taxi drivers from point A to B (forgive the analogy – but I got it from an elderly grey haired pilot who landed at PE, almost sideways, during a hectic storm). I suggest all the anc MP’s climb aboard an Airbus newly refurbished by the BRP’s and some recently redeployed engineers and the latest graduates of the anc flight school and set off on a flight to no-where.
Give me an elderly plane serviced according to WMC standards and elderly pilots of whatever race, gender and sexual orientation and I will pay for a seat. Give me the dodge chemist’s, anc serviced, fuelled, driven, directed, and hosted and I will pay not fly – too scared it will fall out of the sky and land in the BRP’s patch.
Eish. Pilots – look for other jobs. Sorry ne – blame Dudu and JakobZ and his anc clowns.

I agree with everything Grant Back has said except for one small point when he said ” and to pretend that this is an apartheid-era agreement is illogical and fallacious as claiming that any agreement or legislation from 1994 only entrenches the rights of a select few”. Purely based on democratic principles, any legislation passed before 1994(by a undemocratically elected parliament) has no democratic legitimacy therefore it is subject to review and it will be either left untouched, or amended or scraped outright. I am in no way endorsing what the BRPs and government are doing or saying about the pilots, please do not misinterpret my point I’m merely stating a moral and democratic principle.

SAA pilots – you guys are heroes in my opinion. Always professional, dedicated.Safe pairs’of hands.You do this country proud.Salute

Thanks for giving the factual background and historical context. Gordhan will try to save his badly tainted political career at any cost, mainly by lashing out, blaming and casting aspergions on everyone one else and refusing to take any responsibility for helping to drive South Africa to the brink of bankruptcy with his years and years of endless bailouts – despite warning after warning by ratings agencies and Tito Mboweni!
My family has already had the sweetest revenge when we recently instructed the travel agent to SKIP MANGO in its search of ticket availability to fly the CT/ OR Thambo route! That little telephonic instruction felt superbly delicious!

Ecclesiastes 10: 5 Here is an injustice I have seen in the world — an injustice caused by rulers. 6 Stupid people are given positions of authority while the rich are ignored. 7 I have seen slaves on horseback while noblemen go on foot like slaves.

End of comments.





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