State capture: Dudu Myeni ordered R85m SAA contract be given to company of which she was a director

The former acting CEO of SAA, Mathulwane Mpshe, described the 'nightmare' of working for former SAA chair Dudu Myeni, pictured.
The former acting CEO of SAA, Mathulwane Mpshe, described the 'nightmare' of working for former SAA chair Dudu Myeni, pictured.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER/THE TIMES

Former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni allegedly ordered that a lucrative catering contract be given to a company on whose board she served.

The contracts, for catering services at airport lounges, was allegedly withdrawn from the successful bidder.

In August 2015, SAA awarded a three-year R85m contract to LSG Sky Chefs. It came after the airline received numerous complaints over the quality of food from its previous service provider, Air Chefs, which is a subsidiary of SAA.

According to former SAA human capital manager Mathulwane Mpshe, who was testifying at the state capture inquiry on Monday, even though LSG's holding company Lufthansa was registered in Germany, it had met the required BEE credentials and promised to absorb Air Chef's staff to prevent any loss of jobs.

Mpshe, at the time the contract was awarded, was the acting chief executive officer at the airline.

But a month after the contract was awarded, Mpshe says Myeni had brought the matter to the attention of parliament's subcommittee on public enterprises, stating that the airline had awarded the tender to a foreign entity. This, Mpshe said, had raised criticism from opposition parties, including the EFF.

After the subcommittee meeting, Mpshe remembers Myeni asking her: "Does it mean that black people can't cook?"

When the two returned to the airline's office, Myeni allegedly instructed that SAA "hold back on the offer of the tender".

Myeni's then role as board chairperson did not allow her to interfere in the awarding of contracts.

"She then says they have an obligation to Air Chefs [because it is a subsidiary of SAA] and we must cancel the LSG Sky Chefs tender and give it to Air Chefs," said Mpshe. "Air Chefs failed to meet the initial minimal threshold ... and was lawfully precluded."

On September 28 that year, SAA's board took a resolution to retract its contract award to LSG and award it instead to Air Chefs. The instruction was carried out, Mpshe says, "without going through a tender process".

Mpshe told the commission that because Myeni also sat on the board of Air Chefs, it was a direct conflict of interest for her to dictate that the company should receive a contract from SAA.

"It was a nightmare ... It was a very difficult time. We were also concerned for me because as the acting CEO, the instructions would come to me. The morale was very low at the time. It was quite negative because it really was not what we should be doing as executive committee members," she said.

"The board is supposed to have an oversight of the implementation of the strategy for the organisation through the CEO ... but half the time we were focused on this push back and responding to things that did not have a direct link to the implementation of the strategy."

The commission will hear other evidence relating to state capture in the aviation sector on Tuesday.


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