'Officials who said no to Dudu Myeni were suspended,' ex-SAA CFO Zondo inquiry

19 June 2019 - 14:56
Former SAA CFO Phumeza Nhantsi said there was a culture of fear at the parastatal when the board was chaired by the controversial Dudu Myeni.
Image: SAA Former SAA CFO Phumeza Nhantsi said there was a culture of fear at the parastatal when the board was chaired by the controversial Dudu Myeni.

Former SA Airways (SAA) chief financial officer Phumeza Nhantsi told the state capture inquiry on Wednesday of a culture of fear and political interference that existed at the airline under the chairmanship of Dudu Myeni.

"Pressure" was put on senior staff to carry out instructions they were uncomfortable with, she said.

Nhantsi, who was concluding her testimony during her second day on the stand, said staff were given instructions to do "certain things that are unlawful" by Myeni and members of her board.

"I also came to the commission for SA to understand the pressure that was mounting on us. While we were under pressure, I did not act negligently by just accepting what the chair (Myeni) was saying and doing it," she said.

"When I joined SAA, I was very excited to be part of the team that will turn around the company. I believed that I do have the skills and the competency ... However, I realised that the work is doable but there are these political things and undue pressure coming, especially from the board."

She said staff members were suspended because they had not followed Myeni's instructions.

"There were people who were suspended because they said no to decisions and instructions from the chair. As the pressure was mounting, I even one day told my husband that I don't know what I got myself into when I joined SAA. You are given an instruction to do this and certain things are not lawful," she told the commission.

Nhantsi has been accused by her predecessor Cynthia Stimpel (who testified at the commission last week) and other witnesses of carrying out dubious deals which amounted to fraud and corruption at SAA.

These included controversial decisions like recommending that a $5m cancellation fee be paid to BNP Capital in 2016; and irregularly appointing the Free State Development Corporation (whose chair is said to be ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule's sister) to source R15bn in capital for the airline.

Nhantsi used the first leg of her testimony on Wednesday to either justify her decisions, or retrospectively admit that they were wrong.

She told the commission that she realised only much later that she was used as "a vehicle for people to enrich themselves".

The commission's legal team member, Kate Hofmeyr, who was leading Nhantsi's evidence, asked her why she did not report her suspicions as per the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

"I considered reporting it, but I was still going to take those steps. It was overtaken by events … Whilst I was aware of the act, I was more focused on protecting the assets of the company," Nhantsi told the commission.

"I was looking at the bigger picture because at the end, nothing happened (the cancellation fee was not paid). I safeguarded the assets of the company … I acted in the best interest of the company. Because of the pressure, I recommended it (the cancellation fee). I acted with the information and the pressure I had at the time."