Former South African Airways (SAA) chairperson Dudu Myeni took the stand for the first time at the Pretoria High Court on Thursday to testify in her own defence in a delinquency case brought by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and the SAA Pilots Association.
If Myeni is declared a delinquent director, she will not be able to serve on boards for several years, according to the Companies Act.
Thursday was the first time she attended proceedings. In late 2019 the court heard that one of the reasons she was in court was she could allegedly not afford petrol or accommodation.
Myeni is facing allegations, among other things, that she was appointed to the national flag carrier's board by former president Jacob Zuma, and that she caused the collapse of a profitable code sharing deal between SAA and Emirates in 2015 at Zuma's behest.
On Thursday the former chairperson told the court that Zuma played no role in her appointment as the airline's chairperson and only found out about her appointment when her name was read out in Cabinet.
"He said, 'I heard Duduzile Cynthia Myeni being read in the Cabinet memo that was a submission that had been done'...That is how he got to know about my appointment. He had no contribution in my appointment at the South African Airways," she said.
"Secondly, in all my journey in my career, there has never been a single entity in which I served that he would particularly be interested in or [has] been part of... except for his foundation," Myeni added, referring to the Jacob G Zuma Foundation, where she has served as executive chair.
Myeni also claimed she had nothing to do with the sinking of the deal between SAA and Emirates, which may have seen state-owned airline - currently in business rescue - secure a guaranteed annual revenue of R1.5-billion.
"I don’t accept the allegation. It is baseless and it is not true. I am glad I am before the courts to give the facts about the deal," said Myeni, who has previously not attended the proceedings.
Myeni also denied allegations that she had been in the habit of giving instructions to executive member of the airline.
Fin24 previously reported that Myeni sits on 13 boards. Outa and SAAPA are attempting to have her declared delinquent, which would prevent her from serving on any of them. Outa and SAAPA allege that during her tenure as SAA's chair, between December 2012 and October 2017, her actions resulted in serious financial losses for the airline.
Since October last year, Myeni has made several legal attempts to delay the proceedinge. Judge Ronel Tolmay dismissed Myeni's last appeal bid in January, when the case finally got underway. Six witnesses have since taken the stand.
Former acting CEO of the carrier, Nico Bezuidenhout - the current CEO of Mango Airlines - was the first witness to take the stand against Myeni, alleging that she was responsible for SAA’s loss of R1.5-billion annual in revenue that was meant to come from the deal between the national carrier and Emirates.
Former Chief Commercial Officer at SAA, and now the Senior Vice President for Europe at Qatar Airways, Sylvain Bosc, testified that Myeni took away SAA’s chance to be associated with one of the biggest airlines in the world.
Bosc’s court appearance was followed by Thuli Mpshe, former SAA’s General Manager for Human Resources. Mpshe is now the acting GM for Human Capital at SAA Express. In her testimony, Mpshe said Myeni interfered with the process of hiring and firing of senior staff at the airline.
Chief Director at the National Treasury Avril Halstead, meanwhile, who was responsible for oversight of SOEs including SAA on behalf of the Treasury during Myeni’s tenure, previously told the court that government did not want to provide guarantees to SAA due to the carrier’s inability to conclude financial statements on an ongoing basis.
Other witnesses that took the stand to testify against Myeni included former CFO at SAA and now CFO at Saudi Arabian Airlines, Wolf Meyer; and attorney Carl Stein, a partner at Lawtons Africa and an expert on corporate governance.