INTERNAL surveillance reports from South African Airways (SAA) Group Security Services on suspended acting CEO Vuyisile Kona offer a glimpse into the extent of the paranoia and power struggles at the troubled airline.
SAA has been hit by a succession of setbacks since its board and CEO walked out between September and October last year. The national carrier is surviving on a R5bn lifeline from the Treasury while a task team prepares a long-term turnaround strategy, due next month.
Its board suspended Mr Kona earlier this month while it investigated his alleged contraventions of the Public Finance Management Act.
SAA’s security services sent two reports it had compiled on Mr Kona last month to acting chairwoman Dudu Myeni.
Spying on Mr Kona was justified differently in the reports. Because of his position as CEO "he forms part of the Executive Protection Programme" and the surveillance was "necessary to ensure his safety and security", the first report says.
The second says SAA’s security services were concerned that "there was information being compromised with regard to decision(s) being taken at executive and board level, we than (sic) embarked on an intelligence activity to verify this was the case".
One report was sent on January 17, the day before a strike by fledgling union the National Transport Movement (NTM).
The NTM embarked on two strikes last month in a bid to win recognition at SAA; the first one lasted a day and was halted after Mr Kona intervened. The second ran for 28 days after Mr Kona was sidelined by the board, which declared his interim agreement with the union "null and void".
The situation report by the airline’s security services to Ms Myeni showed that Mr Kona’s meetings with NTM leaders were monitored and that what he said had been established.
It raised concerns about the possible destabilisation of industrial relations at the airline, should the NTM be recognised without meeting the 30% of staff threshold required for recognition by the SAA bargaining forum.
"SAA is not in a position to extend these rights as there are two other unions seeking the same rights and they are also faced with the similar challenge of not being sufficiently represented," it said.
After establishing that a meeting was held at the NTM offices in Kempton Park on January 8 — three days before the first strike — SAA’s security staff were told by "a source" what the issues were that Mr Kona and the union’s leadership had discussed.
These included embarking on a campaign to "discredit some members of the board and members of the SAA executive committee", the report reads.
It was also decided Mr Kona would be projected "as a hero that will salvage the company from the present financial crises".
Mr Kona was alleged to have said a dossier had been handed to Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba "to prevent him from being appointed as CEO".
According to the security services, the meeting resolved to project Mr Kona as a "champion of transformation, as he will get rid of whites and some corrupt black managers". In addition, a smear campaign would be directed against Ms Myeni and SAA’s human resources GM.
The report said that the next day NTM president Ephraim Mphahlele told the union’s members about the meeting’s resolutions and of Mr Kona’s intention to resign that weekend.
Mr Kona declined to comment on the reports on Thursday. Asked how he felt about being spied on, he said: "I don’t mind, they must do what they want to do."
Mr Mphahlele said on Thursday that Mr Kona had never been to the NTM’s offices.
"The first time we got to meet him was on January 11 when we were on strike, and we met at his office on the sixth floor of SAA’s headquarters," he said.
"They (security services) are talking rubbish. I would have known about this meeting if it had taken place, they are lying."
Mr Mphahlele said the NTM had no reason to support Mr Kona as "he has done nothing for us for him to be promoted by NTM … he was never our preferred CEO."
SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said on Thursday that the airline could not comment on "such wild accusations". "But certainly I can confirm that the airline definitely does not ‘spy’ on anyone in its employ, including its executives. If anything, SAA is committed to providing the necessary safety and security relating to its staff, customers and assets," he said.
Department of Public Enterprises director-general Tshediso Matona said in a recent interview that the department was "concerned" about information leaks at the airline. This followed the publication of details about the national carrier’s R550m loan.
"In any environment where there is a leak, it points to a security breach. We are concerned about the breaches," Mr Matona said. "People in SAA say it’s the culture in this organisation (to leak). It may be the culture, but it is wrong and breaches confidentiality. We are watching and we have spoken to our security people here (at the department) to speak to the airline security people … we want to see stronger measures, more proactive measures."
SAA was a National Key Point, and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) had a duty to protect it, Mr Matona said. "What we have communicated is that we will not tolerate that (leaks) and in that regard we may draw on the NIA." He said his department did not want to "establish an environment of paranoia and overreaction" at SAA.