There are not as many people that can boast to be very close with former President Jacob Zuma as Dudu Myeni, a South African businesswoman who many have speculated to have even had a romantic relationship that produced a child with the former SA leader. So close are the pair that even during parliamentary proceedings, Julius Malema, the founder of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, addressed Myeni as “Dudu Myeni Zuma,” asserting that the ties between the pair are glaring and obvious for everyone to see.
Myeni and Zuma did not do themselves any favors in quenching the rumors as the businesswoman’s time at the state-owned South African Airways was full of controversies. There were wide-range of reports that she engaged in perpetual board-room wars, witch-hunt, and tactical maneuvers that were at the detriment of the corporation, with Zuma turning a blind eye to all that was going on.
But regardless of all this, both parties have severally reiterated that their relationship over the years has been nothing but professional, a fact that can be seen through Myeni’s role as the longtime Executive Chairperson of the Jacob G Zuma Foundation. How did Dudu garner this much popularity? Let’s find out.
Details of Dudu Myeni’s Childhood & Educational Background
Unlike many other public figures in South Africa, not much is known about Dudu Myeni’s background, including details of her exact place of birth and parents. What is only known is that she was born as Duduzile Cynthia Myeni in South Africa on the 29th of October 1963.
Myeni’s educational background has been disputed and called into question on several occasions. While it is noted that the businesswoman obtained her Primary Teachers Certificate from Madadeni College, and her a Secondary Teachers Diploma from Umlazi College, it is not clear if she managed to graduate from the university.
In 2009, the South African Airways annual report mentioned that the then-newly appointed member of the board of directors had a bachelor’s degree in administration from the University of Zululand. The following year, this bit of information was removed from the report. However, Myeni admitted she had not been awarded the degree but was still “studying toward it.”
About nine years later, Myeni looks to still not have completed the requirements for a degree as she was unable to land a position as a special adviser to Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi after she failed to submit the requisite academic credentials.
How Did She Become So Famous?
Dudu Myeni’s rise to prominence came in 1999 when she founded the consulting firm, Skills Dynamics. Her firm, which operates in and around Richards Bay, has facilitated several social development programs on behalf of both private and public corporations. By 2008, she assumed the role of Executive Chairperson of the Jacob G Zuma Foundation before going on to receive an appointment to the board of directors of South African Airways (SAA).
Joining the board of directors of the South African Airways in 2009, Myeni served as a member of the board for the next three years. In 2012, she was appointed the acting chairperson of the board following the resignation of eight members of the board, including the then-chairperson Cheryl Carolus. However, in 2015, she was made the chairperson of South African Airways, a position she held until October 2017 when she left that position.
Its a humbling, fulfilling experience to embark on a journey, as the Chairperson of SAA, #SAASupplierDev
— Dudu Myeni (@MyeniDudu) October 2, 2015
Other notable high ranking positions that Dudu Myeni has held so far include that of:
Director of Trade and Investment Kwazulu-Natal
Vice-president of the African Water Association
Chairperson of the South African Association of Water Utilities
Chairperson of the Mhlathuze Water Board
Controversies Surrounding Her Leadership at SAA
In March 2015, South African Airways signed an agreement with Airbus as part of the airline’s turnaround plan to lease 5 Airbus A330s. But in October 2015, without involving SAA executives, Myeni informed Airbus that the airways would be renegotiating the agreement to instead be an outright sale to an unnamed third party that would purchase the planes on SAA’s behalf.
Her actions raised concerns about corruption by the Chairperson since she was by-passing the normal procurement process. The move further triggered a clause in the original agreement that any renegotiation of the agreement would need to be approved by the Ministry of Finance. As expected, the then Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene began to re-look into Myeni’s request to renegotiate the deal. This was, however, one of the suspected causes of his controversial replacement a week later as a minister by President Zuma.
This move caused a lot of public outcry and a strong negative reaction by international markets. Consequently, Nene’s replacement, David van Rooyen, was also replaced four days later with the better known former minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan who went on to reject Myeni’s request as he announced that the original agreement to lease the planes would be implemented.
More so, after her tenure as the SAA boss, several calls were made by Organization Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), as well as South African Airways’ Pilots Association (SAAPA) to declare the former chairperson a delinquent director. She faced several allegations involving corruption, gross negligence, and dishonesty. However, in May 2020, a Pretoria Court declared Dudu Myeni a delinquent director, over her conduct while leading the broke airline’s board of directors. This means that she can’t be considered fit to hold the director’s position of any establishment in her lifetime.
What We Know About Dudu Myeni’s Husband and Family
Details of Dudu Myeni’s family are few and far between. While it is not clear who the former SAA Chairwoman is married to, she has publicly spoken about having a husband. She did so following Malema’s statement in parliament when he referred to her with the Zuma surname. She said she was looking forward to her husband’s retirement so that he could be able to confront those who talk about a relationship between her and the president.
Another known member of her family is a son named Thalente Myeni. Not much is known about the boy, however, we do know that he is the sole shareholder of Dimadox, a shelf company that has shares in New Africa Rail (NAR). Additionally, back in 2014, reports were indicating that the former SAA boss’ daughter named Thandeka Memela got married, and former president Zuma and his wife were also in attendance. The authenticity of the reports cannot be verified, given that Myeni has always kept the details of her family away from the media eye.