South African Airways: To Beijing with Love

The Politics of aviation
During the colonial days, particularly in the period from the mid 40s to the early 1960s, South African Airways expanded very rapidly offering services across the African continent from Cape to Nairobi, Khartoum to Cairo but things soon changed after independence as many newly independent African nations denied South African Airways the use of their airspace as a protest against apartheid.


Like most of South Africa, South African Airways has been haunted by the history of the country. During the aparteid, the airline was banned from almost all African countries forcing the then management to adopt a very long range strategy for intercontinental flights, a situation that was easened by the arrival of the jet age as the airline was able to acquire aircraft with longer range capabilities. South African Airways is now one of the few international airlines that fly to all the six continents on the planet, partly due this this legacy.


Most of its flights were concentrated in Europe, a few Asian countries, Australia, South America and North America. Then also known by its Afrikaans name Suid Afrikaans Lugdiens, the then "pariah airline" never developed a route network in continental Africa and in many parts of Asia.  In Asia, one of the many country's that were not very welcoming to SAL was Communist China. Across the vast continent, the airline only flew to HongKong, and Taiwan with whom the apartheid regime maintained very close ties .
This postage from a bygone era shows the launch of South African Airways flights to Taipei in 1980: Note that the use of Afrikaans.
South African Airways c.1980: Launch of Taipei flights: Courtesy The Timetablist
Of course after  30 years, the roles are now reversed. Aparthied has been dismanted and South Africa, along with other African countries,  now enjoy very cordial ties with Beijing and both countries are also members of BRICS, carving up a new global political and economic bloc.

In 1999, South Africa and China signed a bilateral services agreement paving the way for the two countries to open the airspace to each other but it has taken South African Airways 12 years to launch flights to China.

The first-ever direct service between China and South Africa was officially launched on April 27, 2007 by China Eastern Airlines. Unlike their governments, Chinese Airlines have been slow to follow the money trail into Africa. On the other hand, some other African airlines have have been servicing the Chinese market for decades. Ethiopian Airlines for example has been flying to China for 30 years while Kenya Airways launched Guangzhou flights in 2008.

The launch of South African Airways flights to Beijing at the end of this month will be very symbolic. It not only marks the end of an era but also cements the relations between the two countries that are now working hand in hand to shape the world through BRIC. South African Airways management recognizes this historical significance, regarding the Beijing-Johannesburg route launch as way to connect China to Brazil, the other BRIC member and one of the more assertive emerging powers.

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1 Response
  1. I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.


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