Not a single passenger turned up to board Air Zimbabwe on Friday. That is the sobering reality that confronted the airline’s bosses two days ago when they resumed flights after a crippling strike grounded their planes since July 29.
For observers following the drama unfolding at the airline, there was hardly anything surprising about this no-show. The crisis playing out at Air Zimbabwe is symptomatic of years of mismanagement of the airline by successive government-appointed administrators.
The mere fact that pilots’ and other workers’ grievances were not addressed with the urgency they deserved shows that the present government is not really concerned with protecting the country’s national interests that are so intricately tied to the airline industry.
The last minute action where government allocated US$2,8 million from government to offset mounting debts and settle outstanding salaries forebodes a gloomy future for the airline.
It is worth noting that Air Zimbabwe has been troubled by a myriad of challenges before and after the inception of the multi-currency regime in 2009. These range from the use of expensive and hardly-serviced ageing aircraft, an acute skills flight, lack of sustainability and competitive edge, relentless protectionism and insufficient financial support from the fiscus.
Compounding these problems is the government’s reluctance to privatize the parastatal which is already sinking on the market owing to the presence of vibrant competition from other airlines.
Quite frankly, passengers’ reluctance to even book a flight on Friday despite the resumption of services does not bode well for the national airline and is a national shame.
The snub should be a lesson to the airline that you don’t take people for granted. Other airlines have filled the void and it will take a long time for Air Zimbabwe to reclaim its slice of the market share.
The government is confining itself to stopgap measures and not surprisingly pilots will embark on another strike in the near future because the real problems have not been addressed.
The long-term solution is simply to privatize Air Zimbabwe and many other parastatals struggling under the weight of huge debts and mismanagement.