It was December 4th 1994 when then Vice President Brigadier Godfrey Miyanda announced the announcement on state television that the national flag carrier Zambia Airways was no more. The Zambian government had decided to enter liquidation.
What followed was months and years of uncertainty especially among the workers of the defunct airline as they waited to be paid their terminal benefits.
23 years on, debate is still rife on whether the decision to strike a hammer on the wings of Zambia Airways was the correct one. The debate has now even ignited following moves by the Zambian government to relaunch Zambia Airways.
Jacob Chisela who worked as Aircraft Maintenance Manager at Zambia Airways from 1988 to1994 said the 23-year anniversary of the closure of Zambia Airways is a sad day.
Below is Mr Chisela’s write up posted on Facebook
When I started thinking, I was thinking one day, one week, no, one month. to be precise, one sad season. One day I am sitting in my office. There is a knock on the door and in walks a man who introduced himself as representing The Bank of New York. Was in charge of the aircraft. Yes, I was. So the man demands “I have come to take the two ATR42 aircraft.”
I am shocked and confused. The man then produces papers that truly seem to give the man authority over the two ATRs. I tell the man that while it was my responsibility to look after the aircraft for the airline, I did not have authority to give them away. I held the aircraft on the behalf of the true owners of the aircraft, the Zambian citizens. If the man wanted one man to give him the aircraft, he would have to go to President Chiluba. Voices were raised, tempers flared. Sorry I couldn’t stand the fellow so I grabbed his shirt and jacket and thrust him out of my office.
My secretary had summoned help from officers in Purchasing and planning departments. After further words and permission from my Managing Director. All of a sudden came three young men and a young woman all dressed like vagabonds. They went to the two ATRs which were parked on the maintenance apron. Two per aircraft, they did their quick pre-flights and jumped in the aircraft. within minutes, the engines were running and one after the other they taxied off. Transfixed we all turned automatically to the runway and watched the aircraft take off and disappear before our eyes.
A few days later, there was another Repossession team. This time they came for the DC8-71. Slowly the long handsome aircraft taxied away as the crew visibly checked that all systems were functioning properly. the Captain did a shallow take off so lazily as though the aircraft did not want to leave Zambia. Slowly we watched as the machine sliced into the clouds and disappeared.
The DC10 had been grabbed at Heathrow Airport and flown to New Jersey. The Second B737 had months earlier gone to BEDEK, an Israeli aircraft maintenance organisation. The aircraft could not be released because of outstanding payments.
By 1st December 1994, poor Zambia Airways had only the B737 9J-AEG attempting to cover all of Zambia Airways routes and schedules. The aircraft would fly to Ndola, Lusaka, Harare, Johannesburg, Lusaka, Dar es Salaam, to the wee hours of the morning and only to start again at 6:45hrs.
Then it was 4th December and just after the evening TV News at about 22:15 Hours our Vice President then Brid Gen Miyanda filled the TV screen and delivered the devastating news of voluntary liquidation. No warning, No preparation NO Plan B Nothing. Like the East wind it is gone and blown to the west. Time for mourning and crying is gone. Our leaders failed us. Now may be we must think to fix things ourselves. Allow me to say “To better days Ahead”