The SAA survived for decades thanks to government bailouts and cut roads even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The struggling South African national airline has flown its first plane since March 2020 after emerging from bankruptcy proceedings.
Passengers on the South African Airways (SAA) flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Thursday were greeted as they departed with songs and dances from airline staff.
Once Africa’s second-largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines, SAA had survived for decades thanks to government bailouts and was cutting routes even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The government agreed in June to sell a 51% stake to an investor group called the Takatso Consortium, paving the way for a potential injection of $ 200 million.
Even after a state bailout of more than $ 500 million and a restructuring of its debt, the airline only came out of bankruptcy after cutting hundreds of jobs.
In addition to the domestic link which resumed Thursday, SAA plans to start regional services to Accra, Kinshasa, Lusaka, Harare and Maputo next week.
CFO Fikile Mhlontlo said this week the airline’s fleet was down to six planes, down from 46 previously.
SAA’s low-cost subsidiary, Mango, remains blocked and in bankruptcy proceedings.
Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from Johannesburg, said an investigation into corruption at SAA showed at least $ 30 million has been misappropriated in recent years, including through links to irregular contracts .
“So the issues around SAA are one of many examples of SOEs in South Africa where widespread corruption has been problematic,” Miller said.
She also said that some have criticized the airline’s relaunch as an unnecessary “glamor project”.
“There are a lot of airlines in South Africa – in fact, low cost airlines with which flights are cheaper,” she said.
“South African Airlines has been bleeding public funds for a long time and many in this country would say it is an airline that is not needed … and so many people are interested in seeing if it is able to take off and if it is sustainable.” .