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Has SAA reached a point of no return as national carrier?

We need to rebuild, and the science infrastructure of South Africa is a jewel and its industrial base is without a match., the writer said.
We need to rebuild, and the science infrastructure of South Africa is a jewel and its industrial base is without a match., the writer said.
Image: SAA

The soothsayer said to Julius Caesar: "Beware the Ides of March."

March 15 was when all sorts of debt settlements had to be made.

This is relevant to us as South Africans, led by our state-owned entities (SOEs), and we have to answer this question.

Moody's and other rating agencies are on our case. This is the time when value creation and value distraction is at the centre of Longfellow's maxim "the heights by great men reached and kept were not by sudden flight but they whilst their companion's slept were toiling away through the night".

This my father would recite in the wee hours of the morning every season, marshalling us to wake up and go to fields to plough, plant and/or harvest.

The important point Longfellow makes is reaching heights, which is the science of value creation, and keeping heights, which is the economics of value appropriation.

Businesses such as IBM, Kodak and others know the lessons of value creation and value appropriation as well as brand waning and brand awakening.

But the fundamental question is whether the value created as a value proposition holds value.

This is a political-economy and financial question SAA, our other SOEs and ourselves as society as a political being have to answer.

Arriving from New York and landing at Jan Smuts Airport aboard SA Airways, a cabin crew member could not hold back his excitement about the new SAA brand which had changed from the Die Stem flag SAA used as a national carrier.

He leapt across to look through the window and uncontrollably applauded the new brand.

It is the same brand that the Bok, Faf de Klerk, proudly donned.

This I predict will soon appear on all our beaches and swimming pools on frames of all shapes and sizes.

Of course, the plane we were aboard had the old flag and presented a big contrast. I do not recall SAA the brand going on strike in the six decades of my life. But more importantly, in the last 25 years when the discussion about SAA became a perennial soapie.

This challenge starts and became quite visible with the popular terminology of turnaround strategists.

Mr [former SAA CEO Coleman] Andrews, under Mr [former SAA chairman Saki] Macozoma, charged if I recall well, a fifth of a billion rands for a turnaround strategy for the SAA - a lot of money then.

Lesetja Kganyago, then director general of the treasury, would later label SAA's behaviour as one of an alcoholic, who would swear that he will never get close to the bottle, but no sooner had the SAA received a bailout than, like a true alcoholic, hit the bottle again and again.

Many would argue that globally, national flag carriers are usually subsidized because they deliver the country brand. But our alcoholic SAA under Ms Dudu Myeni reached heights unimagined as it thrust itself into the stratosphere and propelled itself beyond the atmosphere, possibly reaching a point of no return as a national carrier.

This is what is unique about the strike. Are we likely to see many more as we count the body bags of value destroyed throughout our institutions. We need to rebuild, and the science infrastructure of South Africa is a jewel and its industrial base is without a match. Yet its price level index drive investments away to east Africa and north Africa.

Whilst Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement is an applauded initiative, unless we inspect and recalibrate our price level indices which by the way contaminate the whole SADC region, the heights we may potentially reach are ones we may not keep. The soothsayer will advisedly say to us: South Africa, beware the Ides of March.

*Dr Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa. Follow him on Twitter @PaliLehohla

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