PUBLIC Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba has accused the outgoing members of the SAA board of lying about government's lack of support.
Gigaba said on Friday: "It says a lot about their integrity if they are prepared to lie in public."
He was speaking within hours of appointing Duduzile Myeni as acting chairman of the board of the embattled airline, pending the appointment of Vuyisile Kona as the new chairman.
Myeni was one of only three board members who did not resign along with chairman Cheryl Carolus on Thursday.
Carolus and seven of her 11- member board quit after weeks of drama over their request for a R4-billion to R6-billion bail-out.
"Such absolute nonsense. We could easily have said, why are you in the red, we reject your proposal and we are not going to talk to National Treasury ... [we] allowed a number of transgressions and focused on moving forward. They don't care about SAA and its reputation. They are more concerned with their egos," Gigaba charged.
Carolus has not spoken about the reasons for her abrupt resignation - and there was little indication that it was on the cards. She had dinner with Gigaba on Tuesday night.
A mere 24 hours before her resignation, she highlighted achievements under her tenure.
She cited progress in tackling employee relations and dealing with losses from anti-competitive behaviour, fraud and corruption "inherited" from previous management.
She also detailed initiatives on the cards to take SAA to great heights.
- flying to new destinations, focusing on Asia, South America and Africa;
- sacrificing domestic travel to focus on international routes;
- modernising and increasing the size of the current fleet; and
- tackling fraud and corruption.
But her 20-year battle plan for growth was not convincing.
When asked about rumours of tension between the board and Gigaba, Carolus said she had deep respect for a man who was coming through the ANC's youth ranks when she was deputy secretary-general at Luthuli House.
"We always had and continue to have a very warm and respectful relationship."
But tensions peaked when Gigaba postponed SAA's AGM after it failed to meet today's deadline to present its annual report to parliament.
Russell Loubser was the first board member to announce his resignation and was followed by Carolus, Bonang Mohale, David Lewis, Jabulani Ndhlovu, Louis Rabbets, Margaret Whitehouse and Teddy Daka.
Lewis said his decision was based on lack of support, of late, of the turnaround strategy, the financial report and budget and Gigaba's silence in the face of public criticism of the board.
"I submitted my resignation to allow the minister to appoint the board that he wants," he said.
Gigaba maintained that SAA has received active support from the government.
"The mere fact that we are discussing the government guarantee is proof and demonstration of the support they have received."
Myeni, Yakhe Kwinana and Lindiwe Nkosi-Thomas will now be joined by new appointees Andile Mabizela, Andile Khumalo, Bongisizwe Mpondo, Rajesh Naithani, Carol Roskruge, Raisibe Lepule and Nonhlanhla Kubeka.
Gigaba wished the new board well, saying it will be required to jump in where Carolus's team has left off.
Last month Gigaba fir ed all but one of the board members of SA Express after serious accounting errors were uncovered, leading to a fall out between the board and audit firm Nkonki.
The errors affect the financial statements going back as far as 2008, and SA Express's results for 2011 are now only expected by the end of March next year.
Gigaba said his d epartment is continuing its consultations with the Treasury on the guarantee application - the resolution of which will be announced as soon as it is finalised.
*This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times