Mboweni questions whether South Africa needs a national airline

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. Image credit: Twitter/GCIS

Amid uncertainty surrounding South African Airways (SAA), Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has questioned whether South Africa needs a national airline or not.

Mboweni recently allocated R10.5 billion towards SAA’s business rescue process, but progress on attracting private investors for a restructured airline remains unclear.

‘What should we do on SAA?’

In a series of tweets late on Sunday, Mboweni asked, “Ok. What should we do on SAA? Do we need a national airline? Maybe that’s the question? Is it?

“Or, is the airline industry market going to solve the question!? In economics, they say that the ‘market will clear’ the problem! Will it?

“In other words, where there is a market gap, a vacuum in a market, an airline will emerge to fill the gap! Will it!? Airlink? Or a restructured SAA??”

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) however criticised Mboweni’s tweets as “disrespectful” to SAA workers.

‘Disgraceful’

“Tito, as the Minister of Finance, has a duty to ensure that the airline is viable and funded,” NUMSA’s spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola told Eyewitness News on Monday.

“It is disgraceful that he can indulge himself on Twitter whilst workers at SAA have not been paid for eight months and counting, and it is just reckless and selfish.” 

This isn’t the first time Mboweni has expressed scepticism about SAA’s future, insisting that it needed to be “shut down” in favour of a new airline.

Speaking at the 6th SA Tomorrow Investment Conference in New York in November 2018, he said, “It’s very clear to me that you’re unlikely to sort out the situation. So my view would be – close it down.”

In other tweets on Sunday, Mboweni also appeared to signal his frustration with lack of policy certainty in South Africa.

“I do not know how to explain this anymore. Let me try. Economic agents: investors, businesses, consumers, buyers and sellers of goods, farmers, the market, etc, need policy certainty. FUNDAMENTAL. I invest because I will harvest in X years in the forward market. CONFIDENCE!!,” he wrote.

“If this is not heard, I give up! On my grave, ‘Here is a man who tried and failed to explain market economics. May His Soul Rest In Eternal Peace.'”

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