SAA starts to collect millions owed by Zimbabwe

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By UK Bureau

SOUTH Africa’s embattled flag-carrier is in discussions to recover millions of dollars owed by Zimbabwe for ticket sales.

South African Airways (SAA) spokesman Tlali Tlali revealed earlier this week that Harare had started to make payments on the debt.

Harare is believed to owe SAA more than US$7 million.

“There are ongoing discussions between us and the Zimbabwean authorities to ensure that funds due to SAA are finally and fully repatriated,” Tlali was quoated as saying by South African media.

Most major airlines had stopped all ticketing in Zimbabwe due to difficulties in the repatriation of foreign currency.

The country reportedly owes international airlines about $150 million.

Worried by the adverse impact on the industry, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), supported by the tourism ministry, engaged the monetary authorities over the debt last year.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) then committed to make monthly payments of US$4 million to clear the debt.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) South and East Africa representative, Alexandru Stancu, last year warned the government again ignoring the debt.

“Governments need to understand the powerful influence airlines play in tourism around the world,” Stancu said.

“The country is dependent on tourism, from the operational perspective the airlines fund repatriation remains a critical issue.

“The airlines are crippled by the inability to repatriate their funds outside the country.

“This impediment pushes many airlines reviewing the distribution strategy and eventually withdraw operations from Zimbabwe which will negatively affect the country in the long term.”

Zimbabwe has been struggling with serious foreign currency shortages which have forced the country to priorities external payments.