Protests erupt in Dar es Salaam over Air Tanzania plane impounded by South African court

Anti-riot police in Tanzanian commercial capital Dar es Salaam is holding three people accused of organizing demonstration at the South African Embassy to demand the release of an Airbus A220-300 aircraft that was impounded in Johannesburg last Friday.

Demonstrators gathered at the South African embassy located at the Central Business District (CBD) in Dar es Salaam with placards demanding the release of the new airplane impounded by an order issued by Gauteng Province Court in favor of the claim filed by retired South African farmer.

Over 100 demonstrators gathered at the South African Embassy on Wednesday morning carrying banners with messages directed to the South African government to interfere in the dispute and release the newly acquired Tanzanian plane.

Dar es Salaam metropolitan police commander Lazaro Mambosasa said the matter of the plane is now being resolved by the Tanzanian government’s officials in South Africa.

At least three people, said to be the organizers of the protest, ended in police custody to answer criminal charges of organizing an unauthorized demonstration.

It is illegal to hold unauthorized demonstrations, public gatherings or any street protests in Tanzania. The police earlier warned protestors to leave the scene.

Air Tanzania received its first Airbus A220-300, registered as 5H-TCH, in December 2018. The airline became the first African operator of this aircraft type and the fifth airline globally with an A220 family airplane.

The seized plane launched its first flight from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg on June 28 this year.

This Airbus was used for the Johannesburg to Dar es Salam flight yesterday and was seized by South African Authorities by a court order in favor of Mr. Hermanus Steyn, a famous South African farmer who once controlled a big portion of land in Arusha region in northern Tanzania and the Maasai lands in Kenya.

Reports from South Africa said that the retired farmer had impounded the Tanzanian plane to push the government of Tanzania to pay him an outstanding compensation of $33 million.

South Africa is one of the top profit-making routes for most airlines in Southern and Eastern African region. Johannesburg is a major air linking point to Australia and the Pacific Ocean rim which are new and upcoming tourist markets for Tanzania and other East African states.

The Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) has been working jointly with Air Tanzania to market both tourism and business destinations. South Africa itself is a source market for about 48,000 tourists to Tanzania pear year, mostly adventure and business travelers.

Latest official figures show that about 16,000 tourists from Australia visited Tanzania in 2017, mostly through air connections in Johannesburg.

Also in 2017, New Zealand was a source of 3,300 visitors to Tanzania while the Pacific Rim (Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa and Papua New Guinea) brought in about 2,600 visitors.

The Tanzanian airline is still facing stiff competition for the South African route with other African and Middle East airlines like Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, Turkish Airlines and RwandAir, all of which operate regular flights connecting Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg.

Air Tanzania was established in 1977 after the collapse of the regional East African Airways (EAA). Up to as recently as three years ago, the airline was operating at a loss, propped up only by government subsidies.

Under a comprehensive revival program, the airline had acquired a fleet of eight aircraft, including three Bombardier Q400s, two Airbus A200-300s, one Fokker50, one Fokker28, and one Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.

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