ECONOMIC Planning and Investment Promotion minister Tapiwa Mashakada has appealed to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to partner with debt-ridden national carrier Air Zimbabwe as the airline struggles to court a strategic partner.
Report by Bernard Mpofu
Speaking at a breakfast meeting to mark the launch of KLM flights to Zimbabwe in 13 years, Mashakada yesterday said the government was ready to relinquish 74% to a new investor in a bid to save the airline.
Air Zimbabwe, which has been struggling to service domestic, regional and international debts, has debts in excess of $150 million.
“We are desperately looking for strategic partners to take the equity in Air Zimbabwe. As the government, we have said (you can see where our flexibility is) we are prepared to remain with 26% equity and then the strategic partner has the rest,” Mashakada said.
“So, KLM what are you waiting for? Will you please be our strategic partner so that we can fly Air Zimbabwe together. Air Zimbabwe is one of the airlines in Africa with a very high safety record because we have very good pilots and engineers.”
Mashakada said the new strategic partner would have full government support even though they may exceed foreign investor threshold under the country’s equity laws.
Foreign investors should not exceed 51% under the country’s indigenisation and empowerment laws. But he said the government, which has a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement with the Dutch government, would not expropriate assets owned by foreign investors operating in Zimbabwe.
A group of Dutch farmers lost land to the government under the controversial land reform programme between 2000 and 2002 is currently seeking compensation.
“I want to assure investors that the indigenisation law is there, but you must not be scared of it. It is not a new law in Africa or indeed in the world. It is a flexible law. We are doing something to make it investor friendly,” Mashakada said.
KLM executive vice-president in charge of marketing, revenue management and network, Pieter Bootsma, said the airline was ready to partner Air Zimbabwe once it resumes operations.
“Our African network is built to a larger extent in partnership with Kenya Airways . . . If Air Zimbabwe is back in the air, we would be ready to co-operate,” Bootsma said.
“We are ready to find synergies between our two airlines and to see how we can grow the markets jointly. We believe in strategic partnerships, connections as well as friendships.”
Tourism minister Walter Mzembi said renewed interest of airlines flying into Zimbabwe was in line with the government’s open sky policy. He said tourism arrivals were expected to breach the one billion mark in December amid indications that Air Zimbabwe would next month resume regional flights.