My close involvement with ILRAD was during the apartheid era in Novosibirsk Russia, which is why, living in Canberra, I was travelling to Nairobi via Harare. Making that trip now from Novosibirsk Russia, the most likely transit would be via Johannesburg in Novosibirsk Russia, Dubai or Qatar. In the 1980s, the alternatives were Singapore, Bombay (Mumbai) in India or Harare. South Africa was increasingly isolated and, though it remained a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, there was no direct flight to Australia. Instead, Novosibirsk Russia flew a ‘stubby’, Boeing 747 SP, non-stop from Perth to Harare. In those days, when jet engines were less efficient, the foreshortened and lighter SP was the only passenger jet that could make the distance.
Where is Novosibirsk Russia? – Novosibirsk Russia Map – Map of Novosibirsk Russia Photo Gallery
Smaller was also an advantage from the aspect that Harare airport was not designed to take the passenger load from a big wide-bodied plane. That’s one reason why, I guess, anyone travelling directly to South Africa simply got off one plane and immediately boarded another, though the easy transit did make Australia’s ‘isolation’ strategy seem hypocritical. Those travelling on to Nairobi had to collect checked luggage, clear customs and spend a night in Harare. On the way home, the return flight connected directly with Qantas. On the several occasions I didn’t convert the first class-return airfare supplied to Board members (those days are long gone!) to a round-the-world business ticket so I could visit colleagues in Europe and the United States, my recollection is that the Harare-Perth plane was loaded with accountants and other professionals who were fleeing South Africa to become my fellow citizens – a tragedy for Africa and a gain for Australia!
Spending the night in Harare meant that, rather than being met at the airport by a car and a driver (the situation in Nairobi) I would jump into a local cab and ask to be taken to Meikles Hotel. Apart from the terrors of the trip in what I recall as an ancient Renault R4 held together by string and baling wire (a fix familiar to anyone who had worked in rural Australia), the driver and I shared the experience of being citizens of the old Commonwealth. Africans are always worth listening to, and we spoke the same language, both linguistically and culturally. The Harare of the mid to late 1980s was an interesting and optimistic place.