Before the demonstrations, the Transport, Communications and Infrastructural Development ministry had issued a directive to the airline not to fly long haul routes, fearing that creditors would impound its few remaining planes over outstanding debts.
The directive came after an American company impounded an Air Zimbabwe plane at Gatwick Airport last month over a US$1,2 million debt.
The other plane had been impounded in South Africa over a US$500 000 debt. On Wednesday, disturbing reports surfaced that the airline, mired in a US$140 million debt, had grounded domestic flights, leaving passengers stranded. Passengers scheduled to fly to London and the Far East were also stranded in Harare as the airline failed to refund them.
Sadly, all these developments — happening at the once prestigious airline — do not shock anyone because Air Zimbabwe has been literally struggling for the past few years. It has become the epitome of state failure in the running of parastatals.
What is worrying is that the shareholder, through Nicholas Goche’s ministry, is clueless on how to extricate the airline from this mess. The board running the airline is equally not up to the task, meaning that this rot is set to continue, unless the airline is privatised.
Over the years, numerous turnaround documents have been written, but were thrown in the dustbin as Zanu PF, which maintains a tight grip on the government-owned transporter — which flies President Robert Mugabe on his numerous Far East jaunts — maintained the status quo.
All Zanu PF officials have done recently is to accuse Finance minister Tendai Biti of failing to rescue the struggling parastatal.
But surely, how many times can Air Zimbabwe be rescued? Treasury and the central bank have done so on a number of occasions to no avail. All they have succeeded in doing is to throw the public funds down the drain.
The lesson from the Air Zimbabwe saga is that when governments fail to run their airlines, the logical thing is to leave them in private hands. This is the only way to ensure a lasting solution to the transporter’s challenges that seem insurmountable.
Quote of the week
“Anyone who would want to soil that, we will meet head on,” Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri reacting to plans by the Harare City Council to shut down an illegal flea market operating in a car park adjacent to the Harare Central Police Station.