Air Zimbabwe, which has over the years been run down by successive Zanu PF governments was in the past few years surviving on handouts from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) through the central bank governor, Gideon Gono’s quasi-fiscal activities.
Now Air Zimbabwe is suffering from low business volume due to a slump in tourist arrivals since the country plunged into political chaos a decade ago. At the same time mismanagement, interference by government officials and endless lawsuits from retrenched workers have milked the organisation dry.
As a result, hundreds of workers at the airline have gone without salaries and most of them are now taking advantage of the cheap tickets they get to fly to South Africa and China to buy trinkets for resale in Zimbabwe.
“The situation has become so bad that most workers take advantage of the 10 percent charge on a ticket to travel to China to buy goods like clothes for resale back home. If you come to Air Zimbabwe today, everyone is selling something.
“Such is the desperation that the flight to China will be half filled by Air Zimbabwe workers and their families going to buy cheap goods. It’s so embarrassing to see a whole flight full of Air Zimbabwe workers because straight away it will be a loss.
“But there is nothing we can really do because management is failing to pay us. Even when the money comes after three months, we will get half salary. Morale is at an all time low but we have to soldier on.
“We have to feed our families and we have to take our kids to school. At least we can still fly for almost free and that has been keeping us going,” said a senior Air Zimbabwe employee at Harare Airport Thursday.
About 500 retrenched workers are demanding a whopping US$5 million from the national airliner which they are owed in outstanding salaries and allowances.
Air Zimbabwe currently operates to Boeing 767 planes, two Boeing 737 planes and one unpopular Chinese made MA60. One MA60 plane has been grounded since it hit warthogs at Harare International Airport recently while the other MA60– given to Zimbabwe for free – has been facing serious technical problems since it was delivered.
The retrenched workers have threatened to use lawyers to in the UK to impound Air Zimbabwe planes in London to recover money they are owed.