HARARE – The wrangle between Zimbabwean and South African aviation authorities, which left thousands of travellers between the two countries stranded over the weekend, could have been handled differently.
Thousands of travellers, including international tourists, were caught up in a tiff between the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) and the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) over what officially was said to be Foreign Operating Licences “issues” which started with SACAA grounding a Harare-bound Air Zimbabwe plane on Friday evening.
In retaliation, Caaz barred South African Airways (SAA) from leaving and landing in Zimbabwe.
The whole saga unravelled at a time the South African government was under pressure to arrest First Lady Grace Mugabe over allegations of assaulting a 20-year-old model she found with her sons — Robert Junior and Chatunga Bellarmine at a South African hotel — a week ago.
While the temptation is so great to link the two events — the cancellation of flights between the two countries and the pressure to arrest Grace — it is rather better to just deal with the rather odd scenario which, on the balance of full analysis, leaves Zimbabwe with a sour taste in the mouth.
Caaz’s decision to ground the planes in Zimbabwe was ill-advised as it clearly showed poor work at gamesmanship which did not really tilt the scale in Zimbabwe’s favour.
While it is true that SAA were hit hard by the sudden ban, because it operates more flights than any other airline in the country, our own tourism suffered, especially in Victoria Falls where hoteliers ended up making arrangements to organise buses to ferry their clients from Livingstone, Zambia, where the grounded planes were landing, bringing them back to our soil across the Zambezi River.
Apart from inconveniencing the tourists, many hotels and lodges incurred huge losses for the upkeep of those that were stranded.
The wrangle did expose Zimbabwe more than it did show the rest of the world that President Robert Mugabe’s government would play hardball with South Africa.
It exposed Zimbabwe as an ungrateful neighbour, especially considering how South Africa has had to make huge concessions both at political and economic levels when it had many options that could have left us to hang and dry.
A case in point is the ill-advised implementation of the Statutory Instrument 64, which hurt South African companies when it was brought into force last year in June.
It is always dangerous to start a war which one can not win. The authorities should take heed.