By Victor Shalton
South African Airways Restructures Leadership Team
Last week, South African Airways announced changes to its leadership structure. The carrier’s interim CEO Thomas Kgokolo — who has led the airline for a year now — has stepped down from the position, with the role subsequently being assumed on a more permanent basis.
John Lamola will replace Kgokolo, who has been serving as non-executive chairman of the interim board even as the airline seeks to rebuild after coming out of the business rescue process, in addition to pandemic induced travel downturn.
Kgokolo took office on April 13, 2021, and oversaw the re-entry of South African Airways into operation after exiting business rescue on April 30, 2021.
Lamola will assume office as the new Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer beginning on May 1. This is the latest in a wave of leadership changes at one of the continent’s big carriers, and the new executives are tasked with driving their recovery from the Covid pandemic. Mesfin Tasew Bekele took on the role of Ethiopian Airlines’ CEO on March 23.
SAA Lead Independent Non-Executive director, Ms. Bembe Zwane said, “Thomas took the job of CEO as leader of a cohort of a Transition Management Team. He was generous enough to offer his professional services under a short-term contract which we have eagerly extended on numerous occasions. Thomas has requested that his contract not be renewed. We appreciate the time he has given to SAA and look forward to the leadership of the executive team by John Lamola”
According to the airline’s statement, Lamola said, “The business strategy of SAA remains intact and on course as the Board and the Ministry of Public Enterprises are steadfastly pursuing their goal of a sustainable SAA for the good of the entire South African economy.”
Since taking office, Kgokolo faced the steep challenge of overseeing SAA’s re-entry into operation from administration at a time when the airline was restructuring to reduce debt and its workforce. This entailed working on re-building trust with the airline’s largest pilots’ union, the South African Airways Pilots Association (SAAPA) while navigating the uncertainties of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“Since exiting business rescue in April 2021, SAA has made significant strides in improving revenue and reopening services both locally and regionally and is now fully focused on its transition to control by its envisaged majority shareholder, Takatso Consortium, which will take a 51% stake in SAA later in the year,” the airline said in a statement.
While in the realm of the country’s flag carrier, Lamola plans to have a smooth transition of the carrier as is set to be sold by the government to the Takatso Consortium.
The consortium is expected to take on a 51% share in the airline later this year and it reportedly plans to invest about 3 billion Rand ($195.34 million) in the carrier.
The government selected the Takatso Consortium, comprising infrastructure investor Harith General Partners and aviation group Global Aviation, as SAA’s preferred strategic equity partner.
The deal brings an end to years of speculation over the future of the troubled airline, which has been blighted by debt. The airline has received billions of South African Rands in government bailouts but has not turned a profit since 2011. As a result, this lead to a fierce debate in which some politicians advocated its permanent closure while others support full or partial privatization.