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We Can’t Throw Billions At SAA While Four Children Per Day Die Of Starvation In SA

If you look back at past bailouts given to the airline since 1999, it now totals R19-billion.

23/10/2017 17:21 SAST | Updated 23/10/2017 17:21 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba will present us with his medium-term budget policy statement. Then we will get to see whether he will offer South Africa a Gupta budget designed to prop up a failing ANC, or a budget that serves the poor and marginalised of our country.

Judging by Gigaba's track record in all his Cabinet positions, I am not holding my breath for the latter. Because, to date, he has shown no capacity to serve the interest of the people. All he has shown us is that he is there to do the bidding of Zuma's handlers, the Guptas. That he is a captured man.

Three weeks ago, Gigaba stuck his hand into your money and handed SAA another R3-billion. Three months earlier he did the same, this time R2.2-billion. And this R5.2-billion is just half of what is needed to keep the airline aloft this financial year.

If you look back at past bailouts given to the airline since 1999, that amount goes up to R19-billion. And if you include the government guarantees -- money that taxpayers will fork out if Eskom can't pay its debts -- then we're talking about a massive R35-billion. Under the "leadership" of Dudu Myeni -- and I use the word leadership in its loosest possible sense -- this airline has made a loss of almost R16-billion over the past five years.

During her time as chairperson, SAA failed in every way to deliver on its mandate. I would describe her as a delinquent director. Thank goodness she is finally gone, and not a moment too soon. But the basic question that no one in government is able to answer is this: why?

Why are we doing this? Why are we keeping this airline going with massive bailout after massive bailout, when it clearly serves no helpful purpose to ordinary South Africans at all? Why keep subsidising the comparatively wealthy who can afford to fly, at the expense of the very poor and the unemployed? Why do we have to keep saving SAA? No one in government can answer this.

Our parastatals have become massive ATMs from which the leeches who feast on our precious resources suck money every month.

On Thursday, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said that SAA is a "national asset". I would have thought a businessman like Cyril would know the difference between an asset and a liability. Let us also not forget that Ramaphosa chaired the interministerial committee on state-owned enterprises, but was not willing to implement any measures to curb the mismanagement.

No, Mister Deputy President, calling SAA a national asset is not a good enough answer. Not a single person in government can answer the basic question of why we should keep saving SAA. So let me give you the answer. We are propping up the failing SAA because it's just another great place for cadres and cronies to make lots of money.

Our parastatals have become massive ATMs from which the leeches who feast on our precious resources suck money every month. This is done not only with the knowledge of our government, but with their assistance. And all evidence points to Gigaba as the man appointed to hand over the keys to our nation's wealth. That's why we keep being forced to bail out SAA. Let's just be honest.

And dealing with the anger of the public and the fallout in the media when these stories break is seen as a small price to pay for all that wealth. That's why you and I and every South African continue to fund this endless corruption, bailout after bailout.

People ask: What is the effect of corruption? Who are its victims? Let me tell you who they are. Earlier this year, in answer to a Parliamentary question, the department of health said that 4,900 children under the age of five had died over the past three years in South Africa owing to severe acute malnutrition. Let that sink in.

That's 136 children per month, or more than four a day, dying of hunger right here in our own country. And they're dying because their mothers cannot feed them on the R380 per month they're given as a child-support grant. When asked why the child support grant is just R380 a month, the minister said: That's all the money there is.

Are four starving children a day not a big enough problem for us to consider stopping these endless multi-billion Rand bailouts and diverting the money instead towards our social safety net?

The same government that will throw R35-billion at a failing airline tells us there simply isn't enough money to stop four children per day from starving to death. How, friends? How is this acceptable in South Africa in 2017?

Must we accept this and go on with our lives? Are four starving children per day not a big enough problem for us to consider stopping these endless multibillion-rand bailouts and diverting the money instead towards our social safety net?

Or should we feel angry about it? Should we refuse to accept this government's criminal priorities? I know what my answer is.

Fellow South Africans, we don't need to carry on propping up a national carrier for the sake of a corrupt elite, at the cost of millions of desperately poor South Africans. We must let it go.

SAA must be placed into business rescue until it has stabilised, and then it must be dismantled and sold. The vast sums of money we will save can be ploughed straight back into any number of programmes that directly benefit the poor.

We won't be the first country to give up its national airline, and we certainly won't be the last either. In a globally competitive world, the most efficient, cost-effective players will quickly step in and fill the gaps. Life will carry on after SAA, but only with more money for the poor and less for the corrupt. Which is the way it should be.

Maimane is the leader of the Democratic Alliance.