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Embattled South African Airways gets new CEO

South Africa’s government on Friday named a new chief executive for troubled state airline South African Airways, following a rash of resignations and dismissals in recent months.

“Monwabisi Kalawe has been confirmed as the cabinet- approved chief executive officer of SAA,” Public Enterprises Ministry spokesman Mayihlome Tswete told AFP.

Kalawe is currently managing director Compass Group SA, a South African-based food service giant with operations in over 50 countries and CEO of the Thebe Tourism Group.

His only experience with the aviation industry was a stint as general manager of the airport in Cape Town in 1998.

He is the third person to take the helm of SAA since a walkout last September by chairwoman Cheryl Carolus and her board.

Siza Mzimela quit as the chief executive a week after the departure of Carolus and her board. He was replaced in October by Vuyisile Kona. But Kona was sacked in February.

The chief executive of SAA’s low cost airline division Nico Bezuidenhout has February overseeing the airline’s operations.

No starting date has been set for Kalawe, but government wants it to be “as soon as possible.”

Public Enterprise Minister Malusi Gigaba said Kalawe was the best candidate for the job even if he has little experience in the aviation sector.

“What SAA needs is not a pilot but a business leader. We were looking for somebody who would be able to lead the business to drive a turnaround plan,” he told Eyewitness News.

Last year, SAA ran up operating losses of 1.3 billion rand (108 million euro; $142 million) for the financial year 2011-2012, hurt by the global economic slowdown and soaring fuel prices.