UPDATED: South Africa blocks Air Zimbabwe flight

Johannesburg — South African authorities say an Air Zimbabwe flight was not allowed to take off from Johannesburg because it was not in compliance with civil aviation rules.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority says an inspection was conducted Friday evening on the Boeing 767-200 aircraft and it was found not to be in compliance with South African and international guidelines.

The aviation authority says an aircraft must have a “foreign operator’s permit” and other documents in order to fly in and out of South Africa.

The authority says it recently took similar action against other operators, including Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Saudi Airlines.

SAA says Zimbabwe cited similar rules in placing restrictions on its operations on Saturday, which affected the government-owned airline’s flights between the neighbouring countries.

SAA says Zimbabwe has placed restrictions on its operations, affecting its flights between the neighbouring countries.

SAA says its flight from Zimbabwe’s capital to Johannesburg was unable to take off as scheduled Saturday morning. Another flight from Johannesburg to Harare has been cancelled.

SAA says Zimbabwean authorities are demanding a “foreign operators permit” to allow the airline to operate in Zimbabwe. It says it has been flying to and from Zimbabwe for more than 20 years and that the permit was never required until Saturday morning.

Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe chief executive David Chawota is not specifying the “issues” requiring attention before the plane is allowed to leave. He says “the South Africans know what should be done”.

The cause of the delay is not clear. 

SAA says in a statement it is awaiting a decision by Zimbabwean authorities. It says it is treating the matter as “urgent.”

It comes as South Africa weighs Zimbabwe’s request for diplomatic immunity for its first lady Grace Mugabe, who has been accused of assaulting a young model in Johannesburg.

The SAPS have issued a “red alert” at the country’s borders to ensure Grace Mugabe doesn’t leave undetected, and are confident she remains in the country.

Late on Saturday a statement was issued saying that Minister of Transport, Mr Joe Maswanganyi would be meeting all aviation entities of the Department of Transport to discuss the grounding of the Air Zimbabwe aircraft which was unable to take off on Friday.

Maswanganyi also apologised “for all the inconveniences that might have been caused to passengers”.

“In the same vein, the minister emphasised that civil aviation safety and security is critical, and all licence and permit holders operating into and within the South African airspace need to comply with the applicable international standards, and the South African civil aviation regulations,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance  says Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has a duty to urgently ensure that the operations of the already seriously compromised SAA are allowed to continue without hindrance.

DA spokesman Alf Lees said it seemed that tensions between Zimbabwe and South Africa were mounting, leading to airlines being grounded.

This seemed to be due to the diplomatic impasse over the assault charges against Grace Mugabe. 

As SAA fell within his mandate, Gigaba had to urgently and publicly address these concerning incidents and confirm that the SAA passengers and crew in Zimbabwe were safe and being properly cared for.

“The silence from our government on the Grace Mugabe matter has been deafening. The reality is that the South African government has completely mishandled this situation which is now affecting the operations of the national airline. Minister Gigaba has a duty to urgently see that the operations of the already desperately compromised SAA are allowed to continue without hindrance,” Lees said.

Associated Press and African News Agency

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