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Tales from the forgotten aviator

By Robert Mukondiwa

The last time I had seen Captain Alex Makanda was much like the first. When a blundering Air Zimbabwe used to overbook on the Harare Victoria Falls route, we would always leave a seat open for a lucky flyer because the captain would send word and ask me to join him in the cockpit.

Captain Alex Makanda
Captain Alex Makanda

It was something that spawned good copy of a wet behind the ears young journalist and an experienced aviator. The front row seat to flying in Zimbabwe; something many can only dream of no less.

And so a call from the man conjured the same ideas in the mind that Captain Alex Makanda would be the same man I had repeatedly encountered as I flew African skies as a journalist.

“I want to give you my story. To entrust you with it,” he had said.

There was a Makanda many had known. A slender dark skinned creature who walked with the grace of a stallion and like some African Marlboro man made the cigarette seem sexier than Marilyn Monroe or Naomi Campbell as he looked into the horizon, puffing away at every pull of his cigarette. One he held jealously as if it were his one true love.

The Alex Makanda that I was to see was a markedly different man from the man who had flown the skies. He was slim, wasted, and looked tired. Age had caught up with him. And perhaps something else as well had bothered him into waste. It was fate which had dealt him a bad hand. As if there were an invisible bag laden with rocks that weighed him down. He had a tale but obviously not one that brings a smile to anyone’s face.

“Life hasn’t been very kind; I have been living a miserable life and things aren’t getting any better,” he said as he sipped a cruelly cold beer on what was itself a criminally cold winter’s night at a drinking hole in Harare.

“I was let go by the national airliner and ever since then I haven’t gotten a single coin from my erstwhile employers and I am owed both my outstanding salaries and terminal benefits as well as my sitting allowances for the last days when I was a board member for Air Zimbabwe,” he said.

It was a sad typical Zimbabwean story of the twilight years of people once they have ended delivering sterling service to their nation.

Captain Alex Makanda was the poster boy of the free Zimbabwe. An airline pilot who was celebrated in his prime and had returned home from working with international airlines in order to serve his nation and inspire a generation of aspiring pilots.

He was a national gem. A national treasure. A shining beacon.

And young handsome men in great jobs in a company as erotic in its beauty as Air Zimbabwe in the ‘80’s meant Makanda and his ilk were chick magnets; loved for being in jobs that everyone dreamt of.

He was also a very strategic being. Having been the Zim One driver equivalent in the air, Captain Makanda had flown then President Robert Mugabe and the political elite as they went about their business in the cut-throat world of continental and international diplomacy. Flying the president meant that he had to be a pair of tried and trusted hands. A true patriot and professional.

How he can end up battling to stay afloat in his retirement, after having been retired in less than ‘‘kind’’ circumstances sings a dark ugly dirge to the death of humanity in the world of work and speaks volumes of how our pensioners are getting by, if at all.

“I am not looking for hand-outs. I just want my allowances and what I am owed,” he says wearing a face that can break even the heart of the Devil in a rare moment of sympathy for humanity.

“I had seen the nation bring in the new Zim Airways (which has since been merged with the national carrier) and I thought it is in instances like this that we can play an advisory role in the unfolding aviation history of our country. We are living resources but are ignored and underutilised as the nation makes mistake after mistake in an industry in which we have valuable ideas,” he says.

Many have promised him his dues. Particularly an overzealous politician (name supplied) that has always promised him his dues, made him write loads and loads of paperwork, but has delivered nothing. He is a politician with more faces than Big Ben. It is hardly surprising that his ‘advisor’ has delivered nothing.

“I don’t want to be celebrated as one of the biggest names in Zimbabwe’s aviation history when I die and yet I have been deprived of what is due to me in my living years,” he says.

But he is confident.

“This new republic and the new president could be my lifeline. They are serious and reward people with their dues. Perhaps finally my plight will be addressed and I can resume my role as a voice in aviation to make sure we become a bastion of aviation yet again in the region,” he says.

He gets the ear of Uzumba legislator Simbaneuta Mudarikwa who also hears of Makanda’s plight.

“The man did a lot for the nation and he is a legend in aviation. Certainly things will change for him,” he says.

“Currently I downgraded and sold my bigger house and am now living in a smaller property which has outbuildings which my wife and I are letting out for income.

“My only worry is how I will get the last child in university all the way through his studies. But with the changes in the country, perhaps that time has come for me to expect to finally get my dues,” he says.

This aviator can only hope. But in a new era and a new dawn, hoping can well be rewarded. The Herald