By Shamin Chibba
10 April 2012 – Corruption Watch is committed to rooting out the abuse of public money and resources – but we’re also deeply concerned by corrupt behaviour, especially when public figures exert their power and influence in an abusive manner.
In this light, our new corruption “zero” is Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana, who is claimed to have reacted abusively to an airline staff member when told it was not possible to be upgraded to business class.
In fact, the minister could find herself in big trouble if the South African Airways (SAA) cabin attendant she allegedly victimised on a flight from Ghana to South Africa in late March 2012 decides to take legal action.
Willie van Eeden, a representative of the United Association of South Africa, the union that represents SAA staff, told Corruption Watch that not only will the union be taking the matter up soon, but it would rally behind the attendant when the need arises.
According to media reports, Xingwana has denied the alleged abuse, with her spokesperson Cornelius Monama saying coverage of the incident was biased.
It was alleged in a City Press report on 1 April that Xingwana requested an upgrade to business class, and when she was told by the attendant that this was not possible, she became irate. The minister was travelling on an economy class ticket.
When told the cabin in business class was full, the minister allegedly retorted: “Shut up! Shut up! Is it because I’m a k*****r?”
A fellow passenger alleged that as the cabin attendant tried to reason with the minister, she was overheard as saying: “But I am a shareholder of this company.”
A source within SAA, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Corruption Watch that, according to the airline’s regulations, cabin attendants have a right to have a passenger completely removed from the plane if they behave inappropriately.
“In such an incident the individual is deemed a threat to other passengers and may disrupt cabin crew duties.”
According to procedure, the flight attendant would have to notify the captain of the incident, who would then decide what action to take.
The source said a report would have already been drafted by SAA which would support the attendant’s claim if Xingwana denies misbehaving on board.
The source added that upgrades to business class are not done on board, but at the terminals in the airport.
“We only upgrade platinum card holders, people who pay first or those who have accumulated a lot of travel miles.”
In media reports, Monama denied that the minister was rude and said that she had politely asked for an upgrade, but was shocked by the disrespectful attitude she received.
SAA’s manager of external communications, Kabelo Ledwaba, was reluctant to disclose any more information to Corruption Watch, other than the fact that the airline had apologised to the minister for not seating her in business class as it was not possible to do so at the time.