South African Cargo takes on the world from Jo’burg

Siza Mzimela, South African Airways’ (SAA) newly-appointed CEO, is a determined and feisty lady and quite likely just the right person that the carrier needs to lead it out of the woods, although she doesn’t need to worry about the cargo division. Manfred Singh reports.

The carrier, despite great odds, managed to turn a reasonable ZAR398 million (US$54.2 million) this year, reversing a whopping loss of ZAR1.09 billion it saw in 2008-09. Indeed, the profit stunned many including the then acting CEO Chris Smyth, leading him to wonder aloud during the results presentation: “You must be surprised, just as we were surprised!”

With ample experience in the commercial air industry – Siza Mzimela was CEO of the low-cost SA Express carrier – she has her work cut out for her. Currently SA Express and a number of other carriers including SAA are being investigated over alleged fixing of ticket prices to maximise profits from the upcoming soccer world cup event, something Mzimela flatly denies. As for her new post: “I have no plan yet, but I do have a sense of what things to start working on,” Mzimela said, quickly adding that her first act would be to stabilise the company’s working environment.

Despite talk of privatisation – South African media have been reporting that the government is keen to hive off SAA’s divisions, among them the specialist cargo division – the cargo division has remained focused – and profitable – moving 200,000 tonnes annually within Africa, to Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas using belly space of its passenger aircraft and its five freighters.