AIR Zimbabwe and its chief executive officer Dr Peter Chikumba are no strangers to publicity, often in paid-for newspaper supplements commemorating the diminutive doctor â€œscoopingâ€ some award or other as local businessman/executive/entrepreneur of the year.
But last Monday brought a double dose of press exposure for the troubled airline, effectively exploding the myth thereâ€™s no such thing as bad news.
We read â€” oddly enough in the pro-government Herald â€” of â€œchaos at the airportâ€ the previous day as passengers originally booked on the London daylight flight on Sunday, August 23, denied seats and told to turn up for the Wednesday night service (also over-booked), were furious on again being refused a place on the Sunday, August 30 flight and had â€œturned rowdyâ€ demanding refunds.
An AirZim duty manager, refusing to be named, denied any rowdiness: â€œThere were no scenes like that at all,â€ she said. â€œIf there were, we would have called the police and that did not happen.â€
She did, however, refer any further questions to the airlineâ€™s PR spin-doctors who (conveniently) werenâ€™t on duty. At least those not on forced leave werenâ€™t on duty!
As frequent flyers know, the problem is AirZim has stopped Friday night Gatwick flights, so would-be passengers on that service must be shoehorned into the other two flights. The situation is always problematic; during school holidays it is a nightmare.
You know that and we know it, but apparently AirZim chairman Jonathan Kadzura doesnâ€™t.
In a lead story published that same day in the prestigious South African-based Tourism Update Online we read:
AirZim has denied media reports it is in a financial mess. Chairman Jonathan Kadzura told TUO he could not comment on peopleâ€™s â€œdreamsâ€ insisting the airline was not insolvent.
â€œReports in the news are malicious lies. The airline is doing very well despite the challenging economy. The whole industry has been hit by recession, not just AirZim,â€ he said.
Kadzuraâ€™s comments are a direct contradiction of reports that hundreds of Air Zimbabwe employees are set to lose their jobs to mitigate the airlineâ€™s significant financial losses over the past several years.
â€œIf we do not do anything about it, the business will collapse. The situation we are in today as an airline and as a country is not best for business,â€ Chikumba was quoted as saying in one report.
â€œWe are restructuring to provide clients with better service,â€ said Kadzura. He could not, however, explain how cutting 500 jobs, a third of AZâ€™s 1 500 workforce, would improve service.
Kadzura also denied allegations the airline had cut flights to Dubai, Kinshasa and Luanda to save money. â€œWe have not cut any frequencies at this point. We are doing the best we can to sustain all frequencies,â€ he said.
There has been no service to Kariba, Hwange, the Lowveld or Masvingo for perhaps two years, despite acquiring Chinese planes reportedly specifically for those routes. A much vaunted highly publicised service to Brussels, capital of the European Union, via Belgiumâ€™s former colony, the DRC, never got as far as a debut flight, nor did an improbable but widely trumpeted service to Iran â€œfive-times weeklyâ€ as part of the Zanu PF governmentâ€™s laughableÂ â€œLook Eastâ€ policy.
In a recent interview Chikumba said: â€œTo succeedâ€¦ I should be able to call (Richard) Branson (Virgin Atlantic Airlines boss) to invest in AirZim, I should be able to call Strive Masiyiwa (Econet), Shingi Munyeza (African Sun), and Nigel Chanakira (Kingdom) to invest in our business. They will not invest until they get the assurance that their investment would be safe.â€Â For starters, Chikumba will have to convince the Zimbabwean businessmen to travel on AirZim planes, especially the MA60s.
In recent years AirZim has abandoned servicing Mozambique, Durban, Cape Town, Mauritius and Windhoek (Namibia) regionally; Cyprus, Greece and Frankfurt in Europe. There is too much talk of turnaround at AirZim and the results are showing. The airline is spinning out of control.
Talking of spin, government was last week embarrassingly economical with the truth about the countryâ€™s withdrawal from the Sadc Tribunal on the spurious reasons that its constitution was not proper and therefore illegal.
Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, The Herald said, had written to the court informing it of the decision to pullout because its formation was not ratified by two-thirds of the regional member states.
This turned out to be nothing; just a yarn spun by Chinamasa and the Zanu PF half of the inclusive government as a pre-emptive strategy to stop the Sadc Summit from discussing and coming up with a firm stance on Zimbabweâ€™s deliberate disregard for the tribunalâ€™s ruling last November against the eviction of 78 white commercial farmers from their properties, and that it pays full compensation to those already forced off the farms.
The same court ruled that the chaotic land seizures of 2000 were discriminatory, racist and illegal under the Sadc Treaty, which give birth to the Sadc Tribunal.
Why Zimbabwe began to question the legality of the Sadc Tribunal at this juncture is quite puzzling. Is it not the same Chinamasa who dispatched Deputy Attorney-General Civil Division Prince Machaya and the coordinator of the Zanu PF created Zimbabwe Lawyers for Justice Advocate Martin Dinha to Namibia last year to mount the government defence against the 78 farmers? So the court became illegal after government lost the case?
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights were dead right last week when they asked why Zimbabwe seconded Justice Antonia Guvava to sit as a judge on the Sadc Tribunal if it were illegal.
What is more shocking though is a minister of justice quoting sections basing a far-reaching decision of this sort on a repealed law. What do you have to say about this Patrick?
The US Congressional delegation was in Zimbabwe last week and the motive of the visit was â€œquestionedâ€ after â€œtheir impromptu last minute call on President Mugabe at State Houseâ€ on Thursday â€œjust as they made their way to the airportâ€.
The Herald, quoting an anonymous source that most Zimbabweans now know has an office in Munhumutapa Building, claimed Mugabe was surprised that the delegation had arrived at State House and wanted to see him.
Out of courtesy, we were told, Mugabe met the delegation.
What was unacceptable in this Herald fiction is that Mugabeâ€™s spokesperson George Charamba confirmed this construction.
â€œClearly, the Congressmen did not have the president on their schedule. The meeting was incidental to their mission in Zimbabwe,â€ Charamba said. â€œThe visit seems to have been focused on one party in the GPA. Their visit to State House was a self-fulfilling one and even the president was taken aback.â€
The US Embassyâ€™s Public Affairs Officer Tim Gerhardson has since written to the Herald editor William Chikoto expressing the missionâ€™s â€œconcern about the inaccurate and irresponsibleâ€ article headlined â€œUS Congressional teamâ€™s visit raises eyebrows.â€Â
Gerhardson sought correction of the distorted information on the Congressional visit, but at the time of penning this article, the newspaper was yet to correct the blatant lie of the unscheduled visit.
Below is part of the US letter to Chikoto.
â€œThe US Embassy submitted Diplomatic Note number 227/09 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Zimbabwe (with copies to the Offices of the President and the Prime Minister) on August 14, 2009, requesting meetings for the delegation led by Representative Meeks with the President and Prime Minister.Â
â€œIn addition to the Note, officials of the US Embassy met with and talked with staff from the Minister of Foreign Affairs on several occasions before the delegation arrived and sought Ministry assistance in scheduling a meeting with President Robert Mugabe.Â
â€œWhile awaiting the delegationâ€™s arrival, the ChargÃ© of the Embassy of the United States of America discussed the delegationâ€™s interest in meeting with the President with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and explained the delegationâ€™s fixed departure time.Â Efforts to schedule the meeting continued throughout the time the delegation was present in Harare.
â€œWe find the assertion in your article that it was an â€œimpromptu last minute callâ€ on President Mugabe grossly inaccurate and would like this impression corrected for the benefit of both your readers and professional journalism.â€
So you see what Information, Media and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu means when he claims to the world that the state controlled media are newspapers, television and radios of record.
It is interesting for the minister to explain to Zimbabweans how media organisationsâ€™ registration laws operate, especially as to who gave H-Metro â€” a new Zimpapers publication â€” a license to operate. Are there separate laws of registration for public and private entities? Is there fairness in all this exercise?
But our only comfort comes from the fact that the first instalment of the H-Metro was as not only uninspiring but also absolute drivel. Who in their right minds will believe that Macheso will hook up with Akon in a duet? Singing what? Not â€˜konvincingâ€™ is it?
As if that was not enough, the paper carried pictures of scantily clad young ladies taking part in the latest edition of Big Brother Africa. This was a grotesque lie. For the record, at the launch of the reality show there were no female contestants in the house, but two guest prominent South African ladies who left the house after 24 hours.
Â At the launch of the paper last week, Information minister Webster Shamu had this to say about this sort of journalism.
â€œThe great temptation with this niche in the publishing industry is to push for sensation at the expense of truth, accuracy, fairness and balance.â€
This rule was broken at launch!