Di­plo­matic stand-off

SA, Zim ground planes in ‘tit-for-tat’

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - LUNGANI ZUNGU, ROBIN ADAMS, NON I MO K AT I, AN­DREW ROBERT­SON AND SO LL Y MAP HUM UL O

SOUTH Africa and Zim­babwe are headed for a ma­jor di­plo­matic fall­out af­ter an SAA Boe­ing was pro­hib­ited from leav­ing Harare, a move seen as re­tal­i­a­tion for Grace Mu­gabe not be­ing al­lowed to leave South Africa for an al­leged as­sault on a model.

In ad­di­tion, a Zim­bab­wean flight was pro­hib­ited from leav­ing OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional on Fri­day night.

Avi­a­tion au­thor­i­ties on both sides claim both air­craft did not have the nec­es­sary pa­per­work.

All six flights be­tween Joburg and Harare were can­celled yes­ter­day, with SAA ask­ing trav­ellers to re­book.

SAA said the Sun­day flights to Harare would be “up­dated”. And while Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and Zim­bab­wean Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe were shak­ing hands and ex­chang­ing smiles yes­ter­day at the 37th South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity meet­ing in Pre­to­ria, things were get­ting ugly on the ground.

The po­lice min­istry said this week that Zim­babwe’s first lady was still in South Africa.

A source who did not want to be named feared a di­plo­matic fall­out could have a huge im­pact on South African com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Zim­babwe.

“Zim­babwe can ask South Africans to leave or they could lose all their as­sets. Re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries are very im­por­tant.”

He added that a lot of South African com­pa­nies that bought cig­a­rette from Zim­babwe could also be af­fected.

Po­lice Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula said this week that po­lice had is­sued a “red alert” at South African bor­ders for Grace Mu­gabe in case she at­tempted to leave the coun­try.

She was not seen at the SADC sum­mit while most of the heads of state were ac­com­pa­nied by their spouses.

In a tweet, Air Zim­babwe con­firmed that an SAA flight from Harare to Joburg was grounded.

By late evening there was still no in­di­ca­tion whether the flights had been given clear­ance to take off .

SAA spokesper­son Tlali Tlali said yes­ter­day that one of the air­liner’s air­craft was not able to op­er­ate in Zim­babwe.

Tlali said they were still await­ing a de­ci­sion by the au­thor­i­ties in Zim­babwe to al­low the air­craft to op­er­ate.

“The air­craft was due to op­er­ate as flight SA 025 from Harare to Jo­han­nes­burg. We apol­o­gise to our pas­sen­gers and cus­tomers for the in­con­ve­nience. The sit­u­a­tion is re­ceiv­ing re­quired and ur­gent at­ten­tion,” he said.

Tlali said au­thor­i­ties in Zim­babwe in­di­cated that they needed a for­eign op­er­a­tors per­mit from them be­fore they grounded their flight. He said SAA had a to­tal of eight flights that were sched­uled to op­er­ate be­tween Joburg and two points in Harare and Vic Falls.

Asked whether a Zim­bab­wean air­liner was de­tained at OR Tambo air­port, Tlali said they would not speak or se­cond-guess the de­ci­sion re­lat­ing to other air­lines.

David Chaota, Zim­babwe’s Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity chief ex­ec­u­tive, said SAA flight 025 was grounded only for “com­pli­ance pur­poses” and rub­bished any sug­ges­tion of a ban on South African air­craft.

He said the air­craft were not cleared for take-off be­cause the flight was “not car­ry­ing their FOP (for­eign op­er­a­tors per­mit) on board”. “This was a nor­mal ramp op­er­a­tion,” he said. “On this par­tic­u­lar ramp check, they (the flight) didn’t have it (per­mits).”

Chaota con­firmed the SAA Boe­ing was still stand­ing at Harare’s air­port (at around 7pm) and would be re­leased “when they (SAA) cor­rected their prob­lem).”

He also said SAA had done “the nec­es­sary ap­pli­ca­tions”.

Chaota also pointed out that SAA was not the only air­line stopped from op­er­at­ing at Harare’s air­port yes­ter­day. A Bri­tish Air­ways flight was also not per­mit­ted to take off for non­com­pli­ance.

The DA has, mean­while, called on Fi­nance Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba to in­ter­vene ur­gently.

The op­po­si­tion party said it was is con­cerned that the flight was stopped from op­er­at­ing and that other SAA flights from Zim­babwe were can­celled.

“Min­is­ter Gi­gaba has a duty to ur­gently see that the op­er­a­tions of the al­ready des­per­ately com­pro­mised SAA are al­lowed to con­tinue with­out hin­drance,” the party said.

The Trans­port Depart­ment, fol­low­ing a meet­ing, said: “Fol­low­ing the re­stric­tion of Air Zim­babwe by the South African Civil Avi­a­tion author­ity, it has been es­tab­lished that the car­rier did not com­ply with the ap­pli­ca­ble in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and South African civil avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tions. The meet­ing was in­formed that Air Zim­babwe did not have a for­eign op­er­a­tor’s per­mit (FOP).

“The said non-com­pli­ance by Air Zim­babwe was dis­cov­ered by the South African Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity (SACAA) dur­ing a rou­tine com­pli­ance in­spec­tion at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

“Upon re­ceipt of the rel­e­vant doc­u­men­ta­tion, the Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity will re­lease the Air Zim­babwe air­craft.

“It can be con­firmed that dur­ing the meet­ing Air Zim­babwe did sub­mit the re­quired doc­u­ments which are be­ing as­sessed by SACAA and if found to be in or­der a rec­om­men­da­tion will be made to the depart­ment to is­sue the FOP.

“It is an­tic­i­pated that the whole mat­ter will be re­solved within a day.

“The meet­ing fur­ther es­tab­lished that South Africa Air­ways (SAA) were also not in posses­sion of an FOP which com­pelled the Zim­bab­wean Avi­a­tion Author­ity to re­strict them.

“The meet­ing was as­sured by SAA that the re­quired doc­u­men­ta­tions has since been sub­mit­ted to the Zim­bab­wean au­thor­i­ties, who con­firmed that the doc­u­men­ta­tion are in or­der and they are in the process of is­su­ing an FOP to SAA, a process which will then lead to the re­lease of the re­stricted SAA air­craft.”

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