A South African Airways Airbus A320. Picture: SAA
A South African Airways Airbus A320. Picture: SAA

Last week’s suspension of two senior executives at SA Airways (SAA) seems to be a continuation of the costly instability that has come to define state-owned entities in the past decade. This could not have come at a more inconvenient time — ratings agency Moody’s is finalising its report on the country’s credit status, and SAA has just started to see some stability after the appointment of Vuyani Jarana as CEO in November.

The two executives will face disciplinary hearings on unspecified charges, following a forensic investigation into the airline. The hope is that the suspensions have nothing to do with egos or personality clashes among the executives. Chief financial officer Phumeza Nhantsi, first appointed to the position in an acting capacity in November 2015, had been the contact point for the airline’s lenders, and had been successful (with the backing of the board and government) in getting financial institutions to extend their credit lines to March 2019. Joining Nhantsi in suspension is the CEO of the technical maintenance unit, Musa Zwane, who also acted as SAA CEO during the ruinous reign of former chair Dudu Myeni.

The immediate task is for SAA executives to get on with the job of stabilising the airline and turning it into one that can survive and compete in the marketplace. SAA does not have the luxury of time.