SAA drug busts 'bad for SA'

Anna Majavu and Sibongile Mashaba

Anna Majavu and Sibongile Mashaba

The second bust of drug-smuggling SAA crew members is disastrous for the country, will lead to a high level of searches on flights, and means the airline has to spend a fortune on new drug-detecting equipment.

This was said by SAA acting CEO Chris Smythe, who appeared before Parliament yesterday to explain what the airline was doing to stop drug smuggling on its flights.

"The reputation of SAA and the country is tarnished," said committee chairperson Fatima Chohan-Kota.

But Smythe said: "We are bringing in sophisticated equipment because the standard X-ray equipment we have is useless at detecting drugs."

Smythe said that after the first drug bust five weeks ago, five security guards held random searches of the airlines' 700 cabin crew.

"But this time the cabin crew used a carry-on bag and bypassed the security system," he said.

"This drug-smuggling plague is part of an international trade in drugs from south-east Asia to Europe, using Africa as a hub," said Smythe.

The last time SAA had to deal with its drug-smuggling crew members was three years ago.

But since last month, SAA has been in the eye of the storm. In January crew members were bust after 50kg of dagga and 4kg cocaine with a street value of more than R4million was found in one of their bags at Heathrow Airport in London.

On Monday, 5kg of cocaine valued at more than R3million was found, leading to the detention of the 15-member crew.

Meanwhile, SAA was forced to appoint a forensic auditor on Tuesday to investigate claims by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union that CEO Khaya Ngqula's wife, Mbali Gasa, was part of a group of companies set to win a R1,5 billion catering deal with SAA.