SAA interim CEO to step down, new head to take the helm from May 2022

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South African Airways (SAA) interim CEO, Thomas Kgokolo will step down as head of SAA at the end of April 2022. after a one-year tenure serving at the flag carrier’s helm.  

John Lamola will assume the role of Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer with effect from May 1, 2022, according to a press statement released by SAA on its website. 

Kgokolo took office on April 13, 2021, and oversaw the re-entry of South African Airways into operation after exiting business rescue on April 30, 2021. 

Bembe Zwane, SAA Lead Independent Non-Executive director, said “Thomas took the job of CEO as leader of a cohort of a Transition Management Team. He was generous enough to offer his professional services under a short-term contract which we have eagerly extended on numerous occasions. Thomas has requested that his contract not be renewed. We appreciate the time he has given to SAA and look forward to the leadership of the executive team by John Lamola.” 

John Lamola was appointed non-executive chairman of the SAA Interim Board in July 2021.  

According to the SAA statement, Lamola said: “the business strategy of SAA remains intact and on course as the Board and the Ministry of Public Enterprises are steadfastly pursing their goal of a sustainable SAA for the good of the entire South African economy.” 

Since taking office, Thomas Kgokolo faced the steep challenge of overseeing SAA’s re-entry into operation from administration at a time when the airline was restructuring to reduce debt and its workforce. This entailed working on re-building trust with SAA’s largest pilots’ union, the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA), while navigating the uncertainties of the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

“Since exiting business rescue in April 2021 SAA has made significant strides in improving revenue and reopening services both locally and regionally and is now fully focused on its transition to control by its envisaged majority shareholder, Takatso Consortium, which will take a 51% stake in SAA later in the year,” said the airline in its statement. 

Takatso Consortium is a firm comprised of two entities namely, Harith General Partners, a pan-African fund manager and investor in African infrastructure and airport development, and Global Airways a local airline management firm. 

The consortium was announced as SAA’s new Strategic Equity Partner (SEP) in June 2021 as part of efforts to restructure the legacy carrier after its entry into business rescue on December 6, 2019. 

On September 23, 2021, South African Airways took to the skies once again marking the restart of flight operations. 

This was kicked off by flight SA317, which took off from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International (JNB) to Cape Town International (CPT) with 123 passengers on board.  

In a statement from the airline SAA Board Chairperson, John Lamola praised the efforts of SAA staff preceding the relaunch of the flag carrier. 

Lamola added: “As a global airline, SAA will no longer be constrained by the complexities of state governance and have the competitive agility of a partially privately-owned business.”  

In September 2022, South African Airways and Kenya Airways signed a memorandum of cooperation that included a long-term plan to start a Pan-African airline group. This alliance is aimed at improved connectivity between both airline’s networks while combining forces to reduce costs. 

“The partnership of [SAA and KQ] will improve the financial viability of both airlines by creating the most formidable air transport connection in Africa by benefiting from at least two attractive hubs of Johannesburg and Nairobi. It will ignite the Kenya and South Africa tourism circuits, which account for significant portions of the respective country’s GDP,” said Lamola in a statement from South African Airways released in November 2021. 

Both airlines are now seeking to invite a West African airline to join the airlines group and establish a multi-hub strategy to create better connectivity between South, East and West Africa. 

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