President Jacob Zuma greets President Robert Mugabe at the 37th SADC Summit in Pretoria. Picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

Johannesburg - 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 on Saturday, 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 Saturday 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 on Saturday 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 on Saturday. A British Airways flight was also not permitted to take off for non-
compliance.

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.”

The Sunday Independent