Johannesburg (AFP)

The airline South African Airways, heavily in debt for years, has received Thursday a new rescue plan as part of a project of "radical restructuring" to avoid the bankruptcy of the public company unable to pay the full salaries in November.

"SAA's board of directors has passed a resolution to bail out the company," said Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. "This decision is supported by the government," he added in a statement.

As part of this plan, SAA, which has not recorded any profit since 2011, will receive 4 billion rand (248 million euros, 273 million dollars), half of the share of the State and the other half of lenders, said Pravin Gordhan.

This financial assistance must make it possible "to facilitate a radical restructuring of the company" which will be conducted by an independent director, according to the minister.

The goal is to "avoid a messy collapse" and "try to keep as many jobs as possible," he added, while SAA has some 5,200 employees.

Unions did not immediately react to these announcements. But the airline acknowledged that "times were tough". This rescue and restructuring plan represents "many challenges and uncertainties for the staff," SAA said.

For years, South African Airways, the second largest airline in Africa, is going through a very serious turbulence. It has a debt of at least 9.2 billion rand, or 570 million euros, and survives on a drip of public money.

The plan announced Thursday is however "the least harm" for SAA, reacted the analyst Daniel Silke. It allows to "escape a liquidation" pure and simple, he added to AFP.

The public group will continue its activities while being restructured, he explained, foreseeing job cuts, the privatization of several services at SAA and a revision of the roads - about thirty and not only in Africa - served by the company. .

SAA also announced Thursday the "rapid publication" of new schedules.

- Unpaid wages -

Indebted, in deficit, penalized by an aging fleet of about fifty aircraft and the depreciation of the South African rand, South African Airways has regularly been in the news in South Africa for years.

It was further weakened by a seven-day strike in November, which resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

The unions finally obtained wage increases and the postponement of a few months of a restructuring plan that could result in the dismissal of nearly a thousand employees of the company.

But the relief was short-lived. At the end of November, SAA was unable to pay all the salaries of the month and had to apply for a loan of 2 billion rand.

In the face of uncertainty over the future of the public group, one of the major travel agencies in South Africa decided last week not to sell any more SAA tickets, a new blow for the company.

South African Airways is one of many South African public companies financially dying, plaguing the accounts of the state that steals regularly to their rescue.

The great financial difficulties of these companies are largely attributed to mismanagement and corruption under the reign of former President Jacob Zuma (2009-2018).

Close to Zuma, former SAA CEO Dudu Myeni (2012-2017) was recently accused of "illegal practices" before an anti-corruption commission of inquiry and is the subject of a complaint to the court for its bad management. She has so far refused to appear in court.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Jacob Zuma in February 2018, pledged to clean up public enterprises, while the economy of the continent's leading industrial power is at half-mast.

© 2019 AFP