SA Finance minister sparks fierce debate on South African Airways’ future

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Tito Mboweni, South Africa's finance minister, gestures as he speaks during a news conference before he presents his budget to parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Moodys Investors Service in November gave Mboweni just under four months to come up with a credible plan to rein in government debt and get the economy growing. Photographer: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FILE PHOTO: Tito Mboweni, South Africa’s finance minister, gestures as he speaks during a past news conference. (Photographer: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The debate about the future of South Africa’s troubled national carrier South African Airways (SAA) went a notch higher on Sunday after a government official took to social media to ask his followers on the next possible course of action regarding the airline.

South Africa’s Finance minister Tito Mboweni posed a question on Twitter about the airline asking: “Ok. What should we do on SAA?”

Several South Africans flooded the minister’s timeline with a range of answers with some positively responding to the question while others were negative and highly critical.

Some of those who responded said the sensible options for the government were to sell the airline, privatize it or liquidate it.

Others, however, were of the view that the horse had bolted from the stable a long time ago and the minister’s question was meaningless.

Mboweni then rubbed South Africans the wrong way even more after he openly questioned whether the country needed a national airline at all.

Some of the responses to the minister, however, appeared to have riled him as they questioned his competence and criticized the government prompting him to shoot back at his detractors who chided him for asking such questions.

“People who are afraid of public debate must stay away from politics. Why should a question on SAA get so many people hot under the collar? Come on. Grow up!! This is not a Stalinist society. People must be free to express their democratic views. Me too!” Mboweni wrote.

SAA has not made a profit since 2011, surviving instead on more than 20 billion rand in bailouts over the last three years.

One of the country’s state-owned enterprises, SAA also faces allegations of corruption and mismanagement, filed for liquidation and bankruptcy protection in December last year.

As late as September, SAA suspended all its operations as it struggled to raise a bailout of more than 10 billion rands ($591 million).

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