By Noor-Jehan Yoro Badat and Kashiefa Ajam

The film industry was proud. Pallo Jordan, the Minister of Arts and Culture, was proud. But it appears the national carrier, South African Airways, was not proud enough of Xoliswa Sithole, the South African director who has just won a British British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) award, to fly her home to Johannesburg to celebrate her achievements in her home country.

It was reported that Oscar winner Charlize Theron was given the privilege by SAA not only of first-class flights for her entourage after she won her Oscar award, but of first-class flights for life.

Brian Woods, producer and CEO of London-based film company True Vision Productions, said Sithole's prestigious Bafta was the first for a South African female film-maker.

She won the award last Sunday for her film Orphans of Nkandla, a documentary about the plight of Aids orphans. Sithole was invited to attend a dinner in Sandton hosted by the National Film and Video Foundation and the Department of Arts and Culture.

The event was to acknowledge the recent successes, locally and internationally, of South African film. But the sparkle dimmed a little after the film company's production manager, Julie Hersh, contacted SAA's London office to try to get Sithole a sponsored flight home.

"We told SAA about Xoliswa, and they were totally uninterested," she said, claiming SAA said it was "no benefit to their company".

"We were horrified and disgusted. This is not the way to treat a prominent filmmaker," said Woods.

SAA spokesman Onkgopotse JJ Tabane confirmed that a request for sponsorship had been received by the company's marketing team.

"Unfortunately, such a request was received at short notice." He added that "all international travel is now tightly regulated and requires committee approvals".

"A 24-hour notice was all SAA was given to respond.

"We are sorry if this caused any inconvenience. We are supportive of all of the arts and will continue to be so in the future."

Mickey Dube, a relative of Sithole and a fellow filmmaker, director and producer, said it was exciting for a South African filmmaker to be recognised as Sithole had been by her Bafta.

"I hope that it is a positive thing for the industry as a whole and hope that it is something that spurs on the industry."