The ANC didn’t just take over the town of Kimberley during the celebration of its 108th birthday last week, it also caused serious disruptions to air traffic at public airports in Kimberley and Bloemfontein.
The SA Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) is understood to have banned all private aircraft from parking at these airports overnight, something that last happened during the Soccer World Cup in 2010.
Aviation experts said it was “unheard of” for state assets to be employed to accommodate a political party.
Shortly before the January 8 celebration, Sacaa, in a notice known as a Notam (notice to airmen), informed pilots that “reduced parking is available as a result of the ANC’s event in Kimberley. There will be no overnight stops of any aircraft permitted during this period.”
According to the notice, aircraft were only allowed to park at the airport for an hour to disembark passengers.
Thereafter, they had to find parking elsewhere. Aircraft were also required to have enough fuel to return to their place of departure.
At Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein, Sacaa requested aircraft intending to offload passengers for the ANC festivities to give airport authorities 24 hours of notice. Parking restrictions were also implemented in Bloemfontein, although aircraft were allowed to refuel there.
A pilot who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity said that, despite the drastic restrictions, he saw just two aircraft he suspected of being leased by the ANC at the airport. He wasn’t sure if these aircraft were in need of parking spots.
The pilot said he could understand these kinds of restrictions for state events, but, in his experience, it was unheard of for a political party to appropriate a state asset for an entire weekend.
He said that he had seen the Notam too late and had to make a hurried plan to park his aircraft elsewhere for the weekend.
Adele Nkomo, of the Airports Company SA, which speaks on behalf of Sacaa in respect of operational issues, said they were “aware that there would be an increase in passengers and aircraft that may exceed our operational capacity”.
She said airports had to be managed in this way for safety reasons and that the same rules had applied during the World Cup.
Nkomo said they had allowed private aircraft to offload passengers and to reposition themselves at other airports.
The only exceptions were for President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President David Mabuza and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Nkomo denied that the decision was made at the request of ANC politicians. She said it was an operational plan put in place by the airport’s management.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s spokesperson had not responded to a request for comment by the time of going to print.
Guy Leitch, editor of aviation publication SA Flyer Magazine, agreed that the parking restrictions were unheard of.
“It is unacceptable for [Sacaa] to issue Notams in response to political pressure. Aviation safety should never be sullied by politics.”
The abuse of state assets for the ANC’s pleasure raised eyebrows last week. TimesLive reported that soldiers were patrolling the streets of Kimberley’s Galeshewe township during Ramaphosa’s visit.
The soldiers, in full camouflage gear, were ordered to return to their barracks when the media began reporting about their deployment.
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