Siza Mzimela to fly SAA


South African Express CE Siza Mzimela has been appointed chief executive of troubled state airline South African Airways. She replaces acting head of the airline Chris Smyth, who has been fling the airline since February last year when controversial former CE Khaya Ngqula was sacked.

SAA spokeswoman Vimla Maistry says Mzimela will effectively take charge on April 1. She will that month also wrap up at SA Express, a profitable state-owned regional airline. “I can confirm that we have appointed a new CEO, she is Siza Mzimela. She will come in (at SAA) one day a week in March and in April she will go one day a week to SA Express, just to tie up things,” Maistry told Reuters.

Mzimela has been CEO of SA Express since 2003. During her time as CEO she introduced new routes and recently started a new airline, Congo Express in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2009, SA Express made a net profit of R235.4 million and it remains financially sound, SAA chairwoman Cheryl Carolus says. Business Day newspaper last year tipped Mzimela for the job.

Early this month, President Jacob Zuma said he had ordered an external audit of state companies, following persistent reports of mismanagement and political meddling, and that he wants faster action to curb corruption. Zuma pointed to the SAA and power utility Eskom, which he said had always had problems. Key roles at SAA and state logistics group Transnet have also been left unfilled as the companies struggle to resolve internal battles, Reuters noted.

Analysts have said that political meddling in efforts to resolve the companies’ problems has raised questions about South Africa’s ability to run state-owned firms, making investors hesitate to commit new funds and raising the cost of loans.

Carolus added the board had been looking for someone “with a proven track record and a good level of financial literacy who could build a winning team.” The former ambassador says Mzimela was chosen from a shortlist of five, one of whom was sourced internationally. she has 14 years’ experience in airlines and has a degree in economics and statistics. Maistry says Mzimela is,in fact,returning to SAA as she has previously worked for the airline in a number of positions, from research analyst to executive vice-president of global passenger services, in addition to the strategic direction of global sales and the Voyager loyalty programme.

Carolus also said that details of the results of an investigation by KPMG, and the board’s plan of action following on from the KPMG findings, would be announced early next month,” he Times newspaper adds. KPMG was asked to complete a forensic report following allegations levelled at the company when Ngqula was placed on special leave a year ago. He has since left SAA.

She added that the board expects Mzimela “to hit the road flying”. One of her main priorities will be sorting out corporate governance issues at SAA. Carolus said Mzimela was arriving at SAA at a time when it was already turning around, and in its last results, SAA was already in the black. “I don’t think she is coming into a toxic space but into a ship that is turning”. Carolus said SAA had continued to win awards despite the economic circumstances.

Carolus did not exclude the possibility that SAA and SA Express would merge, saying they operated closely, and that the conversation was on the table with regard to a closer relationship between the two. Asked why it had taken a year to fill Ngqula’s post, Carolus said it was a logistical problem. The old board did not want to make the appointment while it was on its way out, and the new board needed some time to find its feet, and before they knew it, it was already Christmas time.

But the announcement, and the imminent news on what KPMG found, and a plan to overcome internal problems, points to a busier board, which is currently “finalising the steps of action we are going to take”, The Times noted.