Aviation group slam ‘vindictive‘ Namibian cops

NAMIBIAN police treated 20 South African aviation tourists in a harsh, vindictive, malicious manner so they are considering suing the Namibian government, according to a group statement.

Their spokesman Ron Weissenberg released the news on Friday as the 12-plane fleet made its way back to the Eastern Cape after a six- day stand-off involving international relations officials from South Africa and Namibia.

All but one of the pilots and crew are from the province.

Weissenberg claimed they and their fleet were unlawfully detained in the northern Namibian border town of Ondangwa by armed police who chose to ignore documented proof that they had followed the correct process in obtaining their overflight and landing permit from the Namibian Directorate of Civil Aviation.

When police in Ondangwa realised they did not have a reasonable case, he said, they escalated their “malicious behaviour”.

An issue that could have been resolved in an hour was dragged out for days, leaving the tourists, who were partly on “a goodwill mission” to raise money for the Cansa organisation, feeling shattered, afraid and angry.

Some of the women had cried when their husband pilots were arrested, said Grahamstown pilot Sharon McGillewie.

Emotions had plummeted and tempers were raised as the hours and days passed.

McGillewie also believed that youths who had hung onto the fence at Ondangwa airstrip shouting “We are going to show you boertjies!” were a “rent-a-crowd”.

Weissenberg said the group paid an admission of guilt fine of R400 a pilot only after being encouraged to do so as a way of ending an impasse. Later, they were “expelled from Namibia” after being classified as a “risk to national security”.

Weissenberg said the Namibians were in breach of international aviation treaties and conventions and they would be reporting the Namibian government to the UN Economic and Social Council’s International Civil Aviation Organisation.

McGillewie said the incident felt like “a set- up”, especially when the Namibian State media was allowed to get into a position to allow them the best shots of a “bunch of middle- aged white South Africans, and a few in their 60s, climbing in and out of a minibus during the arrests. It was stage-managed to make us look and feel like criminals.”

Despite a deal to release the group, more charges kept on being trumped up, one of them relating to income tax.

“It had nothing to do with aviation,” she said.

McGillewie said Hanno Snyman of the Namibian Microlight Association had returned to the Directorate of Civil Aviation in Windhoek three times to ask for the proper overflight document to be issued, saying the one they had did not look correct. But he was told repeatedly that the form had been changed and that the certificate they had been issued with would suffice.

Ironically, she said Namibians at their hotels and in the street had been relaxed and some were apologetic about the treatment being meted out to them. “People in the street were very friendly towards us,” she added.

However, armed police and soldiers in camouflage had kept a vigilant guard over the group.

She said of the group: “There were tears and raised voices. It was a bit like when they play The Amazing Race – when tensions are high people start shouting, but we coped well on the whole.

“The flight out was great. We had a fantastic reception from the SA embassy and military and police attachés. They were very sympathetic and gave us lifts to our hotels and back.”

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