Zondo hears how wining, dining, limos & jets 'no problem' for former SAAT head Nontsasa Memela

Former SAA Technical head of procurement Nontsasa Memela has denied any wrongdoing amid allegations of corruption.
Former SAA Technical head of procurement Nontsasa Memela has denied any wrongdoing amid allegations of corruption.

For three days, the Zondo commission of inquiry has been subjected to a former SAA Technical (SAAT) head of supply-chain management ducking questions and being hostile to evidence leader advocate Kate Hofmeyr.

Nontsasa Memela - accused of having favoured a US company, AAR Aviation, which won a R1.3bn contract for aircraft components at SAAT, and their local BEE partner JM Aviation - has denied any wrongdoing while she was at the helm of procurement at the technical division of the now collapsing national airline.

This is despite JM Aviation having allegedly paid R2.5m towards Memala's R3.8m Bedfordview home.

According to her version, the boss of JM Aviation, Vuyisile Ndzeku, had bought land from her mother in the Eastern Cape but was instructed to direct the funds towards her house purchase as a "gift" from her mother.

Furthermore, Memela did not see anything wrong, in her capacity as head of procurement, in embarking on a trip sponsored by AAR Aviation to Chicago when a bid process was still running.

She said this did not raise any conflict of interest as she was not going to ultimately decide their fate - a decision she maintained rested with SAAT board members.

Memela is also accused of providing "pricing information" from "previous bids" to AAR through their then BEE partner, SRS Aviation. At the time,  AAR was competing for the components contract.

This too she denied as untoward, saying the information she provided did not prejudice other competitors as the information was from old bids.

But what has characterised her testimony - which was meant to be concluded in one day (last Friday) but has ended up going on for three days - is her defensive posture.

She was particularly hostile to Hofmeyr, whom on Friday she accused of driving a "certain narrative". Memela's lawyer Lindelwa Mbanjwa on Tuesday accused Hofmeyr of being "hostile" towards her client - a jibe the evidence leader immediately dismissed as "false".

"I do not think it is fruitful for me to engage in allegations of hostility - it is false," fumed Hofmeyr.

This happened as things heated up on Tuesday, with Hofmeyr trying hard to drill answers from a defensive and combative Memela.

At the centre of the argument were the AAR sponsored trip to the US, the sharing of pricing information with AAR, and meeting AAR and JM officials while a tender was still running.

Enter Hofmeyr on the sharing of pricing information with AAR: "Explain how giving her [Sibongile Sambo of SRS] information about pricing from previous tenders to give to [ARR official] Ms Cheryle Jackson, how that would have helped them?"

Memela responded: "In my view, if I had shared such information with Sibongile [Sambo], because I noticed that she did not have much knowledge about the kind of components that SAAT required.

"Sometimes as head of supply-chain [management] you can give someone feedback that the reasons you did not succeed is because of these gaps. It would not be of prejudice to previous tenders as the current tender would be something different."

On engaging with JM Aviation (AAR's BEE partners) during an open tender wherein they are bidding, Hofmeyr fired another salvo: "I understood your evidence to be saying that the reason why you interacted with JM Aviation was because you were not going to be involved in decision making? Is that correct?

"That is the correct recollection," replied Memela.

Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo jumped in: "If that was your evidence, it is contradictory for you if you now say there is no such rule [that you must not interact with bidding companies while a tender is running]. Have I misunderstood you?"

Memela could only manage, "I am really confused".

The focus then shifted to the US trip - all expenses covered by AAR - where SAAT board members and Memela, among others, were wined and dined, transported by private jet and limousines.

"The board of SAAT, while the tender is still on, goes to visit a facility of one of the bidding companies ... Do you not see that as a concern?" asked Hofmeyr.

Memela shot back: "You see that as a concern; I do not."

Memela continued ducking and diving on Tuesday afternoon. She is due to be re-examined by her legal representative.