SAA battles for stability as chief departs

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South African Airways is trying to keep focused on overhauling its business strategy after a series of resignations including that of chief executive Siza Mzimela.

Mzimela's decision to step down comes as the carrier faces financial pressure and tighter scrutiny from the government.

The carrier insists that the changes are simply "turbulence of a temporary nature" and adds that they "must not be allowed to affect [the airline's] ability to discharge its core function in a responsible and prudent manner".

South African Airways' operations will "remain intact", it adds, and the developments will not affect the business. "The board's immediate focus will be on the completion of a new business approach," it says, including meeting the conditions of a government loan guarantee to help restructure.

Mzimela must stay at her post for at least two weeks to ensure a smooth transition to the new management, but the carrier has not identified an immediate successor. Chairman Vuyisile Kona will, in the meantime, take charge of the airline's day-to-day operation.

Kona was named as the chairman after a string of resignations by non-executive directors last month, which appeared to reflect friction between the airline and the government's department of public enterprise. South African Airways says that two general managers also resigned along with Mzimela.

The department of public enterprise says it remains "committed" to ensuring that the airline becomes financially stable.

South African Airways' management turmoil comes in the wake of a sweep-out at affiliated regional operator South African Express, including an overhaul of the board - a decision the department of public enterprise insisted was a "necessary action" to help address the carrier's "financial and institutional woes".

South African Express had been profitable until 2010 - around the same time that Mzimela, its then-chief, was appointed to lead South African Airways - but the government has expressed alarm over the regional airline's performance since.