SAA acting CEO Zuks Ramasia. Picture: JEREMY GLYN / FINANCIAL MAIL
SAA acting CEO Zuks Ramasia. Picture: JEREMY GLYN / FINANCIAL MAIL

Embattled national carrier SAA has appointed Zuks Ramasia as acting CEO following the resignation of Vuyani Jarana.

SAA board member Thandeka Mgoduso made the announcement during a media briefing in Johannesburg on Friday.

Ramasia is currently SAA’s GM for operations and has been described as an official with an "extensive aviation background".

Mgoduso said the search for a permanent CEO would be conducted both domestically and globally.

Ramasia will be supported by a "strong team of executives" at the airline. The SAA board met the airline’s executives and union representatives on Friday to brief them about the latest developments.

"We will also inform the staff about the new developments. We don’t want a sense of vacuum to perpetuate. We are committed as a board to transparency," Mgoduso said.

Jarana resigned as CEO last week after 18 months at the helm. He will officially step down from his position on Monday. Jarana cited slow decision-making and red tape at the airline, as well as blurred lines of accountability, as reasons for his departure.

The SAA board said it remained committed to the turnaround strategy of the airline, which has not made a profit since 2011, and requires R21.7bn in funding. This would enable it to break even by 2021, it has said.

However, the full amount needed has not been made available, with Jarana warning in a letter that the airline’s current credit facility of R3.5bn would be depleted by the end of June.

SAA board member and chair of the airline's long-term turnaround strategy, Martin Kingston, said the airline had outstanding debt of R21.7bn.

The debt includes a long-term loan of R9.2bn and a short-term loan of R3.5bn maturing at the end July.

“It's clear SAA has unsustainable levels of debt in its balance sheet,” Kingston said.

“We are operating at a loss, that is in the public domain. We anticipate making a profit in 2021/2022.”

He said corruption had affected the airline for a number of years, but the board would bring those implicated in wrongdoing to book, and put systems in place to stop any recurrences in future.

Kingston said while they regretted Jarana's resignation, he would be replaced with a qualified and capable successor.

SAA board chair Johannes Bhekumuzi Magwaza stressed that the board had confidence in Jarana to drive the turnaround strategy to fruition, and had been shocked by his resignation.

Kingston said the current challenges at the airline would be resolved by the board and not the incoming CEO.

 “If we don't put SAA on stable financial footing, the challenges of the past seven years will continue.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za