Home Opinion & Features SAA microcosm of our past reality, like it or not

SAA microcosm of our past reality, like it or not


“I must explain that I was just joking when I said I didn’t mean what I wrote about reconsidering my decision not to change my mind”

I WAS intrigued by an advertisement for Airlink airline in the latest issue of Very Interesting magazine.

(Very Interesting is published in South Africa in association with BBC Science World and I try never to miss an issue. It really is full of “very interesting” stuff.)

The Airlink advertisement stated that the privately owned airline carried 1.9 million passengers a year on 60 000 scheduled flights, and in the 27 years of its existence it had been consistently profitable and had never needed a government bailout.

Obviously that made me wonder why SAA, which is bigger and has access to more facilities, is such a constantly embarrassing disaster. They just don’t seem able to get it right.

Why? What is Airlink doing right and why can’t SAA copy them?

I don’t claim to have any experience in running an airline or managing the finances of a big company, but I look at the two companies and I’m puzzled.

Both airlines employ properly qualified staff to fly modern, well-maintained aircraft.

Both have well-equipped training facilities for their on-board personnel. One makes a profit and the other loses millions of rand annually. Surely our members of Parliament can’t be swallowing up all of SAA’s income with their freebie perks. Most normal people actually pay for their flights, and I would assume there are many more normal people than politicians.

Most of the people who make an airline work have to be highly qualified. You can’t just walk into a job as a pilot, navigator, radio operator or engineer because your daddy is a member of the right political party.

South Africa, however, has a wonderful tradition of hiring supervisors; and a supervisor needs no particular qualifications. You need to be a skilled artisan to be a welder, for example, but any mampara can supervise welders.

Specially if your dad is the chap who pays the welders.

And of course supervisors earn more than welders, that’s what puts the “super” into their title. I suspect (but I might be wrong) that SAA is bulging with supervisors.

There’s probably at least one supervisor for every four pilots.

They’ll have impressive titles like Duty Allocation Executive, or Schedule Monitoring Operative and they’ll be paid almost double what a trained pilot earns.

I remember a time many years ago in the apartheid days, when certain jobs were classified as being for “whites only”. One of these jobs was that of bulldozer operator. In the Free State there were simply not enough qualified white bulldozer drivers.

They solved the problem in the true South African way.

They appointed black bulldozer operators and this was fine as long as each black operator had a white “supervisor”. So the competent black operators drove the bulldozers while lazy white hoboes sat in the shade and watched them; and were paid twice what the operators earned.

Today you just have to substitute the word “white” with “cadre” and we’re right back where we started.

Last Laugh

A politician wrote to one of his constituents: “I must explain that I was just joking when I said I didn’t mean what I wrote about reconsidering my decision not to change my mind.

“I mean that most sincerely.”

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