By Captain Phillip Mutambirwa
One of the pioneering pilots in the country, Charles “Salad” Samuriwo, has died.
Charles died on July 14.
Born on June 19, 1955, he trained as a pilot in Ethiopia, at the world-renowned Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy and graduated in 1978 together with Captain Alex Makanda and Chris Chenga.
The three had been sent for training by Zanu party in preparation for flying the flag after independence and they became the black pioneer pilots in Air Zimbabwe and also in Civil Aviation in Zimbabwe.
At the same time, some comrades were trained as aircraft engineers and part of this group comprised of the following (to the best of my recollection) the late John Madzima Jnr, the late Cephas Tarenyika, the late Tendayi Makoni, and Stanley Mundora and Peter Chikumba.
Charles the fighter and leader
Charles rose to become the first black Flight Operations Manager at Air Zimbabwe.
The management that our Government brought in at the time had the liberation ethos and zeal to plan for the transformation of our airline to reflect the population of Zimbabwe.
Charles was central to the recruitment, training and development of most of the pilots who were to eventually become the bedrock of aviation in our country and some have since spread their wings right across the world and now fly for some of the world’s biggest airlines.
One of the highlights of his tenure, and ours as black pilots, was when he assigned his colleague from Ethiopian Training School days, Captain Alex Makanda, to take command of and fly the Boeing 767-200ER on its delivery flight after manufacture all the way from Seattle, USA, to Harare International Airport (now Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport).
I will give an account of how the airline flight crew grew and became indigenised under Charles’s leadership. First to join the pilot ranks was the late Captain Costa Kuuya who had trained and had been flying for Zambia Airways, then over a short period, future Captains George Mwase and Obert Mazinyi joined from Air Malawi and Training in Zambia respectively.
The liberation party had also sent some of our fighters for pilot training who would also join the airline and over time formed the second group of pilots to rise to captaincy at Air Zimbabwe composed of Captains Ray Mukahanana, Vitalis Muzenda, Arthur Makoni and the late Captains Eric Nkomo, Philemon Mandeya and, Charles Mukamba.
Captain Eric Matava joined this group at independence and they were sent to Europe by the airline to acquire their commercial pilots’ licences as the Rhodesians who were running the Department of Civil Aviation working in cahoots with the white pilots at Air Zimbabwe sought to frustrate their entry into the airline.
The core groups were to succeed because of the strong backing of the new black management and our Government which took the whites head on.
It is important to emphasise that government efforts were successful because of the conviction and fearlessness of these comrades who had gone to war to liberate this country and took on the whites head on.
Charles was the leader of these comrades as he fought battles for black advancement in the boardroom at Air Zimbabwe.
In the mid-80s future Captains Dumisani Moyo and Eben Murapa joined from the Department of Civil Aviation having trained in the UK. The late Captain Edgar Mhende also joined having trained as a pilot in Zambia where his family had been living in exile, followed by Amen Dube.
Charles and the management at Air Zimbabwe then embarked on a drive to recruit trainee pilots and send them abroad for training. The stream of black Zimbabwean pilots who would later become captains soon became a flood with (in approximate seniority at captaincy through time) Captains Wiseman Kembo, Phillip Mutambirwa, Abednigo Wenjere, Patrick Chiwandire, Emily Njovani (the first woman Captain on the B767-200 ER in Africa), Joseph Makunda, Paul Muchatuta, Charles Chikosi, Oscar Madombwe, Ripton Muzenda, Kudzi Nleya, Tim Nyahunzvi Jnr, Harry Madangure, Geoffrey Makina, Sibusio Moyo, Steve Gono, Don Sisimayi and the late Kenneth Makwanda, who were sent for training variously in the UK, Australia and Ethiopia.
Charles also fought together with the then Ministry of Manpower Planning and Development to bring in pilots and flight engineers from our sister countries Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda to fight off whites who were threatening to go on strike in a bid to hold the airline to ransom! Captain Okweyo and first officers who were later to become Air Zimbabwe Captains Karugunjo, Asiimwe, Jonas, Zuwa and Karabarinde joined at this time.
As the life span of the B707s was close approaching Charles, true to his liberation credentials, had the foresight to convince the board to retrain our flight engineers as pilots since their role was being phased out on the newer aircraft that the airline was acquiring.
The airline thus capacitated future Captains Charles Chikosi, Paul Muchatuta, Oscar Madombwe, Wilson Chiwara and the now late Danai Taruvinga.
The remaining flight engineers were to be recruited again by Charles when he moved over to Affretair as Director of Flight Operations (as described below) and these included Tendayi Makoni, Stan Mundora, David Ramhewa, the late Ernest Mazhandu, Sanders Moyo and Albert Joseph.
Charles was also in charge of flight attendants and at a much quicker rate he was instrumental in the recruitment and training such that by the early ‘90s their complement was 99 percent black.
Professional life after Air Zimbabwe
Charles left Air Zimbabwe of his own accord and joined Affretair as its first black director of flight operations. He continued there with the fight for black advancement in aviation and in no time, he had appointed Captain Ray Mukahanana as the first black chief pilot for the national cargo carrier.
Soon, pilots from the Air Force of Zimbabwe were also recruited by Charles and some of these are Mabhena, Fortune Chiwara, and the late Michael Banana.
The flight engineers from Air Zimbabwe who were on the B707s also joined Affretair as their role was still available on the DC-8 aircraft.
Some of the flight engineers who joined Affretair under Charles’s management are Stan Mundora, the late Ernest Mazhandu, Chris Gundu, Albert Joseph, David Ramhewa, Tendayi Makoni and Sanders Moyo.
Charles made sure wherever he managed that blacks became the majority, thus protecting the national interest from some whites who had no loyalty to the State, a situation some countries that became self-governing failed to foresee and suffered the consequences of a professional group holding their employers to ransom with endless threats of industrial action.
After Affretair, Charles was integral to the conceptualisation and founding of Zimbabwe’s first private airline, Zimbabwe Express Airways (ZEX) as its Director of Flight Operations. ZEX from the onset had a majority of its flight crews being black.
Charles was later to be appointed Board Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe after retiring from ZEX. While there, Charles contributed immensely to development of CAAZ into an internationally accepted licensing authority such that a licence issued by CAAZ is accepted all over the world.
Over the years, Charles and some of us together with colleagues who had joined CAAZ from the AFZ such as Richard Mhene have got together to firstly form Zimbabwe’s first professional pilots body which we named Zimbabwe Flight Crews Association (ZFCA). ZFCA’s mandate is the upkeep of professional standards and giving professional advice wherever possible to Government and representing professional pilots in the aviation industry in Zimbabwe.
We have tried under Charles’s guidance to assist Government by proffering professional advice. A few examples below will suffice:
- Government, in the old dispensation, received well-equipped light aircraft from foreign donors in the late 80s to use for training pilots and these were lying idle at Charles Prince Airport and a group advised by Charles and chaired by myself approached Government with a view to establish a Pilot Training School which we would run ourselves in our free time for our disadvantaged black brothers and sisters as a way to give back to the nation, party and Government for the benefit we accrued for having been sponsored by them but alas our efforts were spurned. Those aircraft are rotting at Charles Prince Airport or being used by white-run schools for their commercial benefit charging exorbitant fees which the majority of our black children who want to go into aviation cannot afford.
- Ministers of Transport have over the years been wrongly advised by persons unqualified in aviation and repeatedly they tell a gullible Press that Air Zimbabwe’s fortunes are being revived yet no flight or maintenance crews have been trained to service, maintain and fly aircraft such as the B777s acquired from Malaysia.
The board of directors has been perennially stuffed with academicians, lawyers, accountants and other business persons whose first relationship and knowledge of aviation is when they are appointed to the Board yet we have been saying for years we are available to Government to give free professional advice which is never sought or taken on board.
The recent case of the administrator is a case in point where a mere phone call to seek professional advice would suffice yet they make decisions that are not logical in aviation. The Zimbabwe Airways debacle included persons masquerading as captains who were only in the forefront because of their relationship to power hence the elbowing out of Captain Ripton Muzenda as Air Zimbabwe CEO because he was too qualified and professional and would not allow some to feed off the trough of the airline.
- One of the last projects we engaged in together with Charles Samuriwo was to try to assist Government resuscitate Air Zimbabwe through our submission to Government of a document that we submitted making ourselves (Charles, Captain Makanda, myself and aircraft engineers Jabu Nkomo and Mandizvidza Msemburi) available to give our Government free professional advice on the turnaround strategy for Air Zimbabwe.
We will endeavour to keep on with the fight for all that you stood for and instilled in all of us. Our comrade and commander on the aviation battlefield Charles “Salad” Samuriwo, fly high Murozvi. Revolutionaries don’t die, they fade away.