Is ANC lying about SAA?

Douglas Gibson says airline is a luxury that this country can no longer afford

Is ANC lying about SAA?

22 July 2020

This sounds like a nasty question, but it is a serious one. The SAA goings-on are beyond belief. Surely the government cannot be serious about wasting over R10billion to just get SAA flying again and then launching a "new" airline at enormous cost without any expectation of it being able to run at a profit now or ever?

If the government is not really serious about this endeavour, is it merely lulling part of its constituency into a false sense of security?

SAA is a "nice to have," but it must be counted as a luxury that this country can no longer afford. It is a vanity project that serves no real purpose other than to fly the well-off around at the expense of the poor. If there was no SAA, the private sector would take up the slack within months. There are many other airlines that would step into the breach at no cost to the South African taxpayer.

We cannot afford enough hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, but we can somehow source or borrow over R10bn to satisfy the unions, a faction within the ANC and the SACP.

The taxi industry transports many millions of South Africans every day but we could only scrape together R1.5bn for them. Yet we can find the money for SAA now and in the future despite its having been insolvent before we had even heard of Covid-19.

One is desperately sorry for the 4000 employees of SAA, but one must feel even more sorry for the 3 million workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, as well as their dependents - perhaps another 9 million or more. There is real hunger and anguish out there but their cries are ignored while Pravin Gordhan's vanity project steams ahead against the advice, let it be remembered, of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, who wanted to close SAA down.

This government has a poor opinion of the USA because it seems to prefer any country that is not a proper democracy. However, it is worth noting that the mighty American economy has taken a heavy knock from the pandemic.

Swissquote Bank in its news brief on 17 July reported that United Airlines said last week it would send notices to 36000 employees. American Airlines has told 25,000 workers that their jobs are at risk. The news brief says, "The pandemic has caused a rout for air travel deeper and more persistent than almost anyone anticipated...it could take years for travel demand to return to its 2019 highs. Meanwhile, airlines are grappling with how deeply to make cuts to hold on to enough cash to survive."

Sky news reported on the same day that British Air will be disposing of its whole Boeing 747 fleet now, four years earlier than planned because of the effects of the pandemic.

In this climate, the ANC government believes that it can refund and relaunch an airline and run it profitably without pouring many more billions down the drain.

If it had a better track record at running state-owned enterprises (SOEs), one might be more trusting. Given its record, one cannot believe it is serious about SAA. Or can one? After all, it is not the government’s money; it is the taxpayers’ money.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com