MY breasts, torso, bums were touched, I felt so violated, my dignity was lost and I felt like I was psychologically raped at the Livingstone International Airport, says an American women Tracy More.
And More, who is wheelchair bound, has vowed never to return to Zambia again unless airport services at the Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula
International Airport (HMNIA) are improved to cater for people with reduced mobility and confined to wheelchairs.
In a letter dated May 4 to The Mast, More, of 2508 Foxhall NW in Washington DC, revealed that some Livingstone residents sent her an online news dailyadvent.com which had reproduced The Mast story of Joseph Moyo who on March 25 sued the South African Airways and the Zambia Airports Corporation for compensation for causing him pain, emotional stress, indignity and violating his rights by failing to provide equipment for him to board and disembark from an aircraft due to his reduced mobility.
“I am able to travel the world, I am a frequent flyer…. After our South African trip, we flew to Zambia in the city of Livingstone. It is there where my great South African experience were wiped out and dented. Upon my arrival at the airport (HMNIA), my mother, sisters, friends and kids disembarked, leaving me alone for what I knew were my routine assistance to deplane. I expected one of the following means out of the aircraft as my experience thus far. Either to a hoist, ambistair, hydraulic-lift or an ambulift vehicle, but to my surprise, come four men, looking like they were about to lift some luggage out of the plane,” she said.
“Little did I realise I was the luggage to be lifted through the steep staircase all the way down. I couldn’t believe my eye…the four men strapped me to a small chair, seemingly struggling to do that due to my height and weight…. I cried, I was not upset but furious. It was the first time I was ever put in such a chair strapped and restrained like a criminal handled by law enforcement officers. They struggled both to strap me and lift me. My breasts were touched, my torso was touched, and my bums were touched. I felt violated. My dignity was lost, I felt I was psychologically raped…I had to close my eye all the way to the steep staircase to the ground,” More said.
She indicated that she is 192 pounds (about 86.18 kilogrammes) and 6.4 feet (about 1.95 metres tall) adding that she had embarked on a Southern Africa visit starting from Cape Town, to Nelspruit and later to Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga for two weeks.
More added that her next stop, together with her 8 family members, saw them spending a week in Johannesburg, visiting Soweto and the
Pilanesburg National Park and the Mandela Square.
“I am a person with limited mobility problems, but I resolved in my life that this would not interfere with me enjoying my outdoor life to the fullest as much as possible…my physical limitations have never defined me, I define every situation, I don’t feel pity for myself…. I am surrounded by a loving family with full support, yet I love being independent,” she said.
More indicated that her experience at the HMNIA made her so hysterical, disturbed and left her traumatised to an extent that her eight days stay in Livingstone were lost at the airport on arrival.
She added that despite visiting Botswana and Zimbabwe while in Livingstone and the excellent Avani Hotel staff and access points for persons using wheelchairs, her experience at the HMNIA still lingered on.
“During my stay, I kept on thinking about how I was going to return. I was scared to death…my night before the return trip was mostly sleepless. I thought about what lay ahead,” she said.
“The news from a Zambian paper (The Mast) reproduced by an online paper called news.af.dailyadvent.com was sent to me about a passenger (Moyo) who had taken legal suit against the same airport…. I blamed myself for not asking if there was equipment before I flew to Zambia,
but, I took it for granted, especially after seeing the right equipment at Cape Town, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga and OR Tambo airports. I thought the standards were the same, but, I turned out to be wrong and got a shock of my life,” More lamented.
She further noted that the standards at HMNIA were dangerous and backdated.
“I and my family will never return to Zambia unless one day we are told that I will never be manually deplaned or boarded by way of being
loaded or offloaded. There is so much tech from the cheapest to the most expensive which the airport can purchase to guarantee the dignified boarding and deplaning of passengers with reduced mobility…to be lifted like that should only be reserved for emergencies, not routine, it’s unacceptable and shameful. That was traumatic for me, I will never forget it. That aside, Zambia is a great country worth a lot of tourism attractions,” More said.
She indicated that her experience in Zambia was a once off one, but one she will never forget and never ever want to experience again.
“At Livingstone airport, I did not disembark or de-board the plane, but I was instead offloaded on arrival and loaded on my departure like cargo. The process lacks dignity and respect. It violates ones right to safe, secure and dignified access to air travel…. I know there are people like in my country (USA) who are on death-row. But when their sentences are carried out, they are done in a humane and dignified manner that does not violate their rights. Just because they are sentenced to death, you can’t simply use stones, sledge hammer,
butcher clever knife, axe or strangulation. No you can’t! Why? Because those methods violate human rights. Despite being sentenced to death, they deserve respect…it is the same with going in and out of an aircraft. It is how one goes in and gets out, the method matters,” she said.
“Livingstone airport is not a bush airport, it is an international airport expecting all kinds of travellers through it, able and disabled…. How about if they have a maximum of 20 passengers in need of assistance? How long would it take to offload them? How safe? How about the risk of them failing to the ground? I intend to work tirelessly to raise awareness to all human rights organisations, including the UN on such issues…this is beyond Joseph (Moyo) or me,”
She further stated that the character of any society can only be judged not on the basis of what it does to the majority but to the minority.
“No airport should be only suitable for the able bodied or those who are well only, but all. I will spare no effort but to work for better, safe access to air travel inclusive to all, not some. My letter is a begging of an awareness campaign, I will spend my time dedicated to insuring no one will ever go through this again,” vowed More.