South Africa is polarising, into builders and optimists on the one side, and breakers and pessimists on the other.
The builders are those who hold the view that South Africa is indeed a ‘Rainbow Nation’ where diversity is welcome and all races can work together. The breakers are those who would tear apart the fabric of society for short term political gain, so that like Sampson, they pull down the temple, and will become Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’. The current attack on property rights is central to the breakers’ strategy. It undermines the property rights that are the bedrock of a stable society and if the attack on property rights is allowed to continue, South Africa will become just another African failure.
Zuma and his Gupta cronies were the arch breakers. I have no doubt that if Zuma’s ex-wife had been elected as he wanted, the destruction would have continued. But Cyril Ramaphosa managed to win, albeit at the cost of some diabolical political deals. Ramaphosa is perceived to be a ‘builder’, but the ‘Ramaphoria’ bubble of his election was soon pricked by his appropriation of the property rights issue from the ‘Breakers’.
What’s this got to do with flying? Well two things: firstly, flying is very much a delicate superstructure on the top of the political and economic base. Damage these two, and flying suffers. Secondly, like politics, flying is polarising, also into builders and breakers. The builders are those brave or optimistic souls who think that Ramaphosa knows what he’s doing. These are the optimists who are still prepared to continue to invest in the industry – people like Comair’s Erik Venter who is keeping his airline at the forefront of technology, and thus competitiveness, by investing in the very latest Boeing 737 Max fleet. And then there are the pessimists. These are those aviation industry leaders who believe that the tide is flowing against them and they would rather not invest right now, but wait on the side-lines to see if things start slowly improving when the tide turns.
SAA may just be the litmus test for these wait-and-see-ers. The once proud airline has been destroyed by the Zuma gangsters such as Dudu Myeni. It should by rights be put out of its misery and euthanised. But government has too much invested and is doggedly continuing to hope that it can be turned around. It has yet another CEO in Mr Vuyani Jarana, thankfully on a five-year contract, which we can only hope he will see out, as the airline desperately needs leadership stability. He speaks the jargon of business schools but appears to be a realist and is “rightsizing” the airline and making it “market facing”.
Now that he has had a chance to get his feet under his desk, I have managed to get an in-depth interview with him. Let’s hope the optimists are right and that SAA, and indeed the whole of South Africa, can be turned around.