Today is the deadline for preferred bidders to submit binding offers to acquire mothballed budget airline Mango. The successful bidder that buys the state-owned budget airline will not be getting much more than a bad taste in South Africa’s mouth though.
Mango takeover bid
The airline was grounded twice last year, after unpaid bills prompted fellow state-owned companies Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) and then Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) to halt its operations. Mango has been in business rescue since the middle of 2021.
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What suitors will purchase seems to be a brand and an engine worth about a R100 000 – Mango’s only asset.
But more than that it’s a blank slate as 553 staff packed their bags and, with it, the culture and memory of an airline that could have been a lot more than another entry in the book of failed state-owned enterprises. And what a pity.
Mango’s people made the business and, under the leadership of Nico Bezuidenhout, the company prospered. From cleaners through to service providers and airport staff in-between, everyone was equal in the eyes of the business. Everyone had a voice, a role and a contribution to make.
That was the kind of business Mango was despite it being at the behest of uber-shareholders public enterprises and SAA. The airline’s first 11 years really painted the skies orange. Mango was a challenger brand that evolved into a leading airline that set the agenda in domestic aviation for several years.
Mango carried its millionth passenger in record time and within its first 24 months competed on all SA’s trunk routes, later launching Zanzibar as its first international destination.
At Mango everyone got their hands dirty. Bezuidenhout often joined other management team members in walking the floor and helping delayed travellers, handed out chocolates to irate passengers and everyone participated in social responsibility.
Most notably was Mango’s leading role in Operation Hydrate where airline staff, customers and suppliers collected millions of litres of water and delivered and distributed it to drought-stricken towns across the country in 2014.
Bezuidenhout spaded and shovelled dirt alongside cabin crew and built more than 30 food gardens nationally, many of which are still operational and providing nutrition to communities.
Staff played ten-pin bowling together – there was even an internal league. Action soccer challenges between low-cost airlines were a frequent occurrence.
Mango hosted thousands of pupils at career days and performed at air shows with ace captain Scully Levin, who also piloted the until now unmatched choreographed ballet and Boeing performance at theSwartkops Air Show one year.
It was the first airline in Africa to install Wi-Fi on board. Mango was innovative, forward thinking and above all, a giant family. It was a culture foreign to other state-owned companies and, hazarding a guess, to many private sector businesses too.
Therefore, staff fought to save the company for over a year, salary reductions were voluntary and labour had to go to court to get shareholders to place Mango into business rescue. But it was all for naught as SAA and the department of public enterprises did everything they could to destroy the value built up over a decade and a half.
It has been suggested that a resuscitated Mango may stand in the way of an SAA reprise post its prolonged business rescue process.
Who knows how Mango’s future was laid out to fail – and everybody loses here. R175 million in unflown tickets, creditors that are owed more than R2.8 billion, ignored pleas from management and the Mango board to
place the company into business rescue a year before it finally faltered.
Yet the business-rescue practitioner cleverly only measures governance after the time of the flurry of requests and absolves everyone by doing so.
Hillary Swank, the Sharks, Say Yes To The Dress host Randy Fenoli, the Bulls – everyone flew Mango. Scott Stapp, singer of rock band Creed performed on board a flight. Couples became engaged. Passengers could take off or land in the flight deck.
It was just that kind of company with a culture that allowed people to thrive. But SAA and public enterprises culled this. The president did nothing.
Aviation in South Africa will never be the same again, and an airline and its people never as authentic and accessible as Mango had once been.
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