SAA strike leaves Bafana’s travel plans up in the air

Bafana Bafana players during a training session at Sturrock Park. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images
Bafana Bafana players during a training session at Sturrock Park. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

As if playing Ghana in Ghana in their opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers on Thursday night was not a tall order, Bafana Bafana faced another hurdle on Friday ... how to get back to SA.

Bafana are booked on an SAA flight from Ghana on Friday morning, but the national carrier has cancelled most of its domestic, regional and international flights scheduled for Friday and Saturday as the airline faces the “mother of all strikes” by trade unions.

And Bafana cannot twiddle their toes in Ghana as SAA and the unions sort out their problems. SA coach Molefi Ntseki’s team need to be in Johannesburg, as they are due to host Sudan in another Afcon qualifier at Orlando Stadium on Sunday.

Adding to the uncertainty is the possibility Sudan’s flight to SA could also be affected.

Acting SA Football Association (Safa) CEO Gay Mokoena said they are crossing their fingers that Bafana will be able to return to SA in time to face the Sudanese.

“We are closely watching the developments at SAA and we are in communication with them regarding the strike on Friday.

“What we understand is that the strike may not have an impact on incoming flights to SA‚” said Mokoena, who added they have a contingency plan in case the national carrier is unable to fly from Ghana on Friday.

“As part of Plan B‚ we may have to look at Ethiopian Airlines because they have a flight coming to SA on Friday‚” said Mokoena.

But should Bafana use Ethiopian Airlines‚ there is a possibility of friction between Safa and SAA as the two parties have a five-year partnership. The sponsorship agreement is in its third year and secures SAA as the official airline for Bafana and other SA national teams.

Mokoena was not in a position to give the details of Bafana’s return flight on Friday but it is believed the team will be on SA210‚ which will leave Accra at 9.35am and arrive in Johannesburg at 5.25pm.

An SAA statement issued on Wednesday said some regional flights will not be affected by the strike‚ including SA210 from Accra. SAA confirmed that other regional flights will also operate as normal on Friday morning‚ including SA147 from Maputo‚ SA067 from Lusaka‚ SA025 from Harare and SA073 from Windhoek.

Confounding matters is that Sudan‚ who beat São Tomé and Príncipe 4-0 at home to go top of Group C on Wednesday‚ could also be affected by the strike if they arrive in the country on Friday.

Safa was unable to confirm Sudan’s expected time of arrival. 

“The airline will assess the situation on an ongoing basis and customers will be kept informed of all operational developments on a daily basis‚” said SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali.

Tlali said that during the negotiations with the unions‚ SAA presented a revised offer for employees, delivering a 5.9% increase subject to the availability of funds from lenders.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) are demanding an 8% increase, while the third union, the National Transport Movement, has not stated whether its members will embark on a strike.