SKY’S THE LIMIT: Giving new meaning to the phrase “taxiing on the runway”, Santaco Airlines celebrated its launch at Lanseria with Minister of Transport S’bu Ndebele, President Jacob Zuma and Santaco’s Jabulani Mthembu. Picture: LEON SADIKI
If ever you need to fly with your goats there is now a solutuion – Santaco, the taxi organisation, will allow passengers to take their bleating friends along when it takes to the skies.
This was the reassurance by Santaco president Jabulani Mthembu at the inaugural flight from Lanseria to Bisho on Friday.
During the launch of the airline, which was attended by President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Transport Sbu Ndebele, Mthembu said people would never feel left out.
“In certain airlines, people are able to put their dogs in cages and take them with them on the airline. Why can’t we do that for our people who have been supporting us for years?” said Mthembu.
He said people going home to conduct traditional ceremonies could use the airline.
While most cartoonists had a field day when the organisation announced they would be launching an airline, the dream has become a reality.
It was thought that rude taxi drivers who had a tendency of stopping anywhere would be in the driving seat of the airline.
On Friday, as promised by Mthembu, passengers were treated like royalty and were welcomed aboard by warm smiles from the attendants who assisted everyone to their sets – unlike the rude taxi marshals who at times choose where you should sit.
When everyone was seated, a message came through the PA system. “Welcome aboard Santaco Airline, our Zola Budd, and this is your Captain Dudly Snell and I hope you enjoy your journey to Bisho with me.”
If you have used taxis you know it rarely happens that you are greeted by a taxi driver.
As the plane took off, Mthembu was close to tears as people sang “Shosholoza” and clapped.
While in mid-air a R10 note was passed from the back towards the front, as is done in a taxi.
When the note got to the front it was passed back as it was alleged the pilot did not have change. This caused much laughter in the plane as most people could identify with the no change issue.
Santaco spokesman Thabisho Molelekwa said it had taken a lot of hard work for the day to finally arrive.
“Many people thought this would never happen. It has finally happened and we are thankful to all those who have supported us,” said Molelekwa.
There were no chicken feet or dumplings for lunch on the flight but a platter of cold meats, fruit, cheeses and croissants were served to passengers.
“This is great. People thought we would be eating cow heads and all. Look at us we are getting food that is available in hotels. Our people will be getting the best service,” said Thandeka Mnisi.
On the return flight from Bisho to Lanseria, deputy general secretary Simon Magagula led the song “Wahamba nathi siyabonga” (God you have walked with us, we thank you).
After that he said a prayer, which had many people joking that God is always with those who travel in taxis and now he is going to be overworked with having to worry about those in the air.
President Jacob Zuma applauded Santaco for their brave step in launching the country’s first fully black-owned airline.
“The Santaco Airlines venture is also significant because it is a practical example of economic and social emancipation,” said Zuma.
The airline is owned by more than 100000 taxi owners, which makes it one of the most broad-based black empowerment ventures in the country.
He said the airports around the country handled more than 18 million passengers per year but while the number might look big most people did not have access to air transport.
Zuma said this was due to the high cost of air travel and to some extent an unfortunate perception that air travel was the exclusive preserve of a privileged few.
“It is also correct and proper for the taxi industry to move a step higher into the aviation sector.
“The industry is a major player in the public transport industry carrying an average 15 million passengers a day countrywide.”
In the coming months Santaco will make a full announcement on how much the air tickets will cost and which areas the airline will be travelling to.
“We have conquered the skies and we are looking into going into sea transportation and launching our own bank.
“Next time we invite you we might be heading to the seas,” said Mthembu.