THE Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation — the Hawks — says it is investigating several conspiracies to sabotage South African Airways (SAA) including a bizarre plot based on “intelligence reports” that white pilots planned to bring down an aircraft while being flown by a black pilot.
SAA is in crisis. It has deep financial difficulties and is in the grip of a board in conflict with both executive management and the shareholder representative, the Treasury.
The conflict has recently taken a racial turn, with board members accusing those responsible for leaks to the media of racist motives.
Last week, board chairwoman Dudu Myeni confirmed that the Hawks had initiated an investigation into financial losses at the airline.
There are now clear signs that the Hawks investigation will go much further than this and will probe “intelligence reports” on sabotage. The probe will involve interviews with a large number of people.
The latest development has sinister undertones as bogus intelligence reports are frequently used in internal African National Congress battles to discredit or undermine opponents through the use of state resources.
The claim about the pilots’ plot came to light on Friday after head of South African Airways Pilots Association John Harty was asked to present himself at the Douglasdale police station in Johannesburg for an interview with the Hawks.
Mr Harty has been an outspoken critic of Ms Myeni in letters to the newspapers and was recently involved in presiding over an association meeting that proposed a vote of no confidence in her.
Ms Myeni complained to Parliament that SAA pilots were racist and overpaid. The pilots’ association in turn said Ms Myeni made racially polarising remarks during a general SAA staff meeting, which had compromised pilot authority and safety on board.
Mr Harty says that at the Douglasdale police station on Friday, five members of the Hawks — including Brig Nyameka Xaba, who is head of crimes against the state and tactical operations — interviewed him, asking a range of questions on his relationship with various SAA technicians, as well as questions on the functioning of an aircraft rudder and how, if it were damaged, it could bring the aircraft down. Mr Harty said he did not know the technicians named in the interview.
“Throughout the interview, they were very polite and said I was not being charged; they were just informing me that they had this information and were acting on intelligence,” he said.
However, at one stage during the 90-minute interview, Mr Harty was asked if he knew what the definition of treason was.
“They didn’t threaten me, although I really felt intimidated,” he said.