Gigaba spits fire, defends airlines affirmative action

Address by the Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba during the launch of the Cadet Pilots’ Programme for South Africa Airways and South African Express at Airways Park on 25 June 2013.

“If birds can glide for long periods of time, then… why can’t I?…If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.”

Guided by these words, the Wright brothers – Wilbur and Orville – launched the first successful, powered, piloted flight in history in 1903.

In so doing, they not only defied the logic of “what is accepted as true”, but they went on to revolutionise the transportation industry all over the world and for all eternity.

Their persistence to achieve what was perceived impossible lay the foundation for the global connections that we have today through the myriad of flights operated daily by various airlines throughout the world.

This quotation by Orville Wright talks directly to all the cadet pilots today as it did to him in the early 1900s.

It is this spirit which enabled SAA and SAX to launch this strategic programme today which seeks to encourage young South Africans, black and white, male and female, to “glide for long periods of time”, refusing to accept it that “what is accepted as true really is”.

As we launch the Pilot Cadet Training and Development Programme by both SAA and SAX, we are reminded of the strides made in this field by Black and African people against all odds.

In 1921, Bessie Coleman was the very first African American female aviator to receive her international pilot license.

She had to receive her training in France as no flight school in the US would admit her because she was Black and a woman.

She also grew up very poor but was lucky enough to have a good Samaritan fund her pilot studies in France.

Coleman did not live long-enough to fulfill her dream of building an aviation school for black aviators, but her pioneering achievements served as an inspiration to a generation of African American men and women.

By the 1960s, black aviation history had been relegated to the back pages of newspapers until some efforts to revive it in the 1970s.

South Africa is no stranger to these challenges.

Mr Mpho Mamashela, now a senior captain in SAA, obtained his commercial pilot license in Germany because in the country of his birth, his colour prevented him from being admitted as a pilot, let alone a cadet.

Indeed, outlining his government’s education policies in the 1950s, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, the Minister of Native Affairs, had said:

“There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live.”

This challenge we have had to counter and negate from the very first day this new democratic government was born and it remains a challenge even to this date.

When he joined SAA in 1994, Mpho Mamashela started an aviation awareness programme for the country’s previously disadvantaged groups and also established SAA’s cadet pilot training programme, which was closed in 2006.

Today marks the day when our state-owned airlines have decided to intensify their cadet pilots programmes in response to the call to revive the much needed skills required in the aviation sector in South Africa and Africa through the launch of this joint Cadet Pilot Training and Development Programme by SAA and SA Express.

On the 3rd of May 2013, I had the honour and opportunity of addressing the International Air Transport Association’s Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit, which was held in South Africa for the first time and in Africa in two decades.

One of the key discussions of the Conference related to improving the levels of safety operations on the African continent and the drive to ensure that African airlines are removed from the European Union’s list of banned airlines.

This will take greater efforts from Africa as a whole to ensure the required quality and safety standards of our airport and air navigational infrastructure and equipment, our aircraft, our air traffic controllers and more especially our pilots who operate these aircraft and are therefore responsible for the millions of lives being flown throughout the world.

Becoming a pilot and acquiring the skill of flying is very specialised and intense; it requires careful and rigorous selection of candidates who have the required aptitude and psychological fitness to qualify for the profession.

This is required to ensure that we maintain the highest levels of safety standards.

Safety is of paramount importance and therefore it is very critical that we absorb into this stream only the best of the best.

The fact of the matter, and I say this with the utmost degree of confidence and even arrogance, is that both SAA and SAX have among the highest safety, technical and operational standards both in Africa as well as in the world.

As a result, SAA and despite its financial challenges, has been voted the best airline in Africa for eleven consecutive years.

This means that state support for its airlines has not been misplaced in terms of what matters most – safety, technical and operational standards.

SAA is one of the oldest airlines globally; it celebrates more than 70 years on air, since taking off it has no history of crashing and this can be attributed to its rigorous assessment programme and commitment to highest levels of safety and quality of its pilots.

South Africans must be proud of this history.

Historically, the aviation sector has not been accessible to individuals from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Preamble of the South African Constitution states this challenge very blatantly in saying:

We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to

  • Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

Therefore, the increased inclusion of previously disadvantaged individuals into the aviation industry is a critical imperative for the country in order to fulfill the above injunctions of the Constitution which enjoins us to recognize the injustices not just of the past, but of our past.

In this way, the Constitution directs us to take collective ownership of the injustices of the past so that we can all, black and white, male and female, commit to redressing those injustices and thus take collective responsibility for our common future.

The Constitution did not intend that anyone amongst us should disown the past and simply airbrush it and forget it happened.

The question is, what are the practical things we need to do to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on social justice; and build a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity!

What are the practical steps we need to build a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa!

We cannot deny the fact that South Africa remains to this day divided in terms of race, gender as well as the distribution of wealth, income and poverty.

This does not mean, as some critics have pointed out, that we should lower our qualification standards or that we should create barriers for white South Africans to be eligible for training or even create uncondusive conditions during training which would make it impossible for them to succeed.

We need to ensure that we maintain the high quality standards of pilots as required by the South African Civil Aviation Authority as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization.

However, we must make bold to say that nothing in black South Africans is inherently devoid of merit and white South Africans are also not inherently meritorious!

We must resist the dangerous path taken by those that seek to divide South Africans on the basis of race on matters where we need to unite in order to create a truly non-racial South Africa based on social justice.

The continued marginalization of black and female South Africans in certain fields is not helpful at all; and does not contribute a thing in correcting the injustice of our past.

On this one, I stand firmly and boldly on the same side as both SAA and SAX.

South Africa is recognised internationally for having a pool of pilots who are not only well trained but who also display exceptional skill and continue to maintain high levels of safety records in comparison to their proxies internationally.

We would like to maintain that.

I also commend SAA for having been awarded the On-time performance Service Award by Flightstats and being voted the Best Airline in Africa for the eleventh consecutive time.

The national flag carrier’s passionate aviators have contributed in no small measure to the attainment of these awards and the Department is truly proud of this level of recognition that only serves to motivate us to try to do more.

The Cadet Pilot Training Programme, which was developed by SAA in 1994, was an initiative aimed at redressing the imbalances of the past and meeting statutory transformation targets.

Since the programme’s inception there has been steady but slow progress in ensuring that those required targets are met.

To date, the programme has processed a total of 246 cadet pilots, 166 of whom have successfully completed training and are currently absorbed in the pool of excellence within the SAA and SAX’s Pilot body.

Despite these developments, we still have a huge imbalance between the country’s demographic structure and that of our pilots which does nothing to comply with the Constitution’s injunction to reverse the injustices and heal the divisions of the past and create a society based on social justice.

So, some in our country have complained that SAA, for example, is recruiting 33 black cadet pilots and only 7 white cadets.

Yet, statistics indicate that:

  • · SAA has 793 pilots. Out of these, 667 – 85% – are white and only 124 – 15% – are black (Africans, Coloureds and Indians put together);
  • · Between 1994 and 2012, SAA has trained 190 black cadet pilots compared to 51 white cadet pilots. Yet, the pass rate among black cadet pilots during this period has been 62% – 118 – whilst it was 94% – 48 – among white cadet pilots;
  • · This means that even if you had passed all the 190 black cadet pilots, black pilots would still have amounted to a paltry 314 compared to a whopping 667 white pilots.

With regard to the South African Express;

  • · Out of a total 255 pilots, 208 – 81% – are white and only 47 – 9% – are black;
  • · There are 47 black cadet pilots;
  • · SAX has 123 white captains and only 3 black captains;
  • · It has 55 white Senior First Officers and 6 white Junior First Officers compared to only 2 black Senior and 5 black Junior First Officers.

Mango, on the other hand, has 84 all-white pilots.

With regard to gender equity in both instances,

  • · Of the 793 SAA pilots, only a shameful 70 – 8% – are female whilst SAX has 10% female pilots among its 214 pilot population;
  • · Among cadet pilots, SAX has only 9 female pilots, 7 of which are still in the cadet programme and 2 are Junior First Officers;
  • · At SAA, there have been 60 female cadets compared to 181 male cadets since 1994 and 48 of those successfully completed training compared to 118 male cadets that also successfully completed training.

These statistics highlight the blatant fact that the rate and levels of transformation in this sector have been taking place at a painfully slow rate and that there is critical need to increase the pace of transformation to address the significant levels of demographic and gender imbalance that are embedded in the aviation sector.

Above anything else, and rather than divide us, these statistics raise the fundamental question about whether we are doing enough to fulfil the injunctions of our Constitution, if we believe in it as well as we all claim to do.

Through the launch of this Programme, the three state-owned airlines – namely, SAA, SA Express and Mango – will now strengthen their role as engines of economic growth in our developmental State and as leaders in the transformation of the aviation sector in order to strive towards reflecting the diversity of the country in the skilled echelons of their workforce.

This is a non-negotiable requirement which the Department will continue to monitor and engage robustly to ensure that we attain the necessary levels of transformation as set out in various policy frameworks.

Targets in this regard will be further communicated by the Department through the State-Owned Company Reporting and Regulatory Framework such as the Shareholder Compact to ensure that the targets are accomplished accordingly.

The State is aware of the high costs associated with the training and development of pilots and will endeavour to identify innovative means of supporting the three airlines in their quest to address the challenge of transformation in this sector.

In addition to the high costs of training, the Shareholder is also mindful of the increased competition between the various sectors in attracting scarce skills to each industry respectively, which competitiveness continues to impact the intake of suitable individuals into the aviation industry.

The initiative undertaken by SAA and SAX to transform the aviation sector is commendable and it is part of State-Owned Companies (SOC) fulfilling their social objectives.

If government will not invest in these scarce skills through its SOC, we will not transform this economy and we will continue to be ranked as a country that has skills-mismatch problem.

We also acknowledged though that we still have a long journey ahead of us in addressing this anomaly.

I expect all three State airlines to move swiftly in addressing the transformational challenges.

Of course, as Orville Wright unequivocally stated it way back at the turn of the previous century.

I thank you.


  • Its about time someone said this. The tendency to equate affirmative action with mediocrity has gone unchallenged for too long.

  • In front of these statistics one wonders what Solidarity and the lot are complaining about. They seem to think that they have a giod given right to dominate these sectors.

  • Long overdue. Why did they cancel the cadet initiative in the first place. Lets hope they are not politicking.

  • This must be one of the best speeches Gigaba has made in a long time. This guy is merging steadily into prominence. Id say he is worth watching. One of these days he may be the guy facing JUJU in a presidnetial election. That will be interesting.

  • I must say I was driven close to orgasm when I was listening to the presentation of this speech. I agree with you its one of is best. He is certainly a rising star.

  • JB is dreamer. JUJU versus Gigaba in a national election. Only in his dreams

  • “We need to ensure that we maintain the high quality standards of pilots as required by the South African Civil Aviation Authority as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization.

    However, we must make bold to say that nothing in black South Africans is inherently devoid of merit and white South Africans are also not inherently meritorious!”

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