RESIDENT Robert Mugabe and his family are beneficial shareholders in an airline that is expected to be handed lucrative long-haul licences to London and the far East, multiple aviation sources said this week.
Company records for Zimbabwe Airways were not available from the local registry, but sources said the airline’s holding company has a Mauritius registration. An online search on the Mauritian registry did not yield any result, suggesting the company could have been registered under a name other than Zimbabwe Airways.
Although there is a company registered as Zimbabwe Airways with the companies’ registry in Harare, its file, 3015/12, could not be located.
The Mugabes’ son-in-law, Simba Chikore, the current chief operating officer at Air Zimbabwe (AirZim), has been instrumental in setting the new airline up and is tipped to become its chief executive officer.
Transport Minister Joram Gumbo has also been heavily involved with the airline, taking part in negotiations for the lease of aircraft from Malaysia.
Details around the new airline have been a closely guarded secret.
In June, images of one of the planes, a Boeing 777-branded Zimbabwe Airlines, emerged as it completed a two-hour demo flight from Subang airport in Malaysia. This triggered speculation that loss-making national carrier Air Zimbabwe would rebrand and lease equipment.
It quickly emerged, however, that both the Air Zimbabwe board and chief executive Ripton Muzenda, who was recently suspended, had no involvement in the planned new airline. Contacted for comment by The Financial Gazette yesterday, Gumbo denied reports that the Mugabe family owned Zimbabwe Airways. He, however, refused to disclose the airline’s owners, only saying it belongs to a consortium of local and non-resident Zimbabweans.
He said the Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company would lease the planes to Zimbabwe Airways.
Gumbo said speculation that the Mugabes were involved with Zimbabwe Airways stemmed from his 2016 visit to Malaysia in their company.
“We were on the same flight with the first family, on their way to Singapore, while I dropped off in Malaysia for the lease negotiations. I then followed them to Singapore and we returned back together,” Gumbo said.
Asked why he was involved in equipment negotiations for a private airline, Gumbo said his role was to facilitate such deals for any Zimbabwean willing to invest in aviation.
“Let there be no confusion over that trip with the first family,” Gumbo said.
Of late, Gumbo, one of the more accessible officials in Mugabe’s Cabinet, has taken to giving cryptic answers to queries about Zimbabwe Airways.
Early this month, Gumbo seemed to suggest to the state-controlled Sunday Mailnewspaper that Zimbabwe Airways would replace Air Zimbabwe as the national carrier.
Asked by the newspaper if, as rumoured, the new airline would unveil its fleet on November 9, to coincide with the renaming of the Harare International Airport to Robert Mugabe International, Gumbo said:
“We will talk when the time comes. The project is mine but what you are talking about is not correct.”
On Tuesday, Gumbo told state television that the promoters of the new airline were “enterprising private investors.”
Gumbo added that the new airline would operate the long-haul routes abandoned by Air Zimbabwe. The national carrier has long ceased servicing international routes due to a combination of debt and lack of appropriate equipment.
Contacted for comment, Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) chief executive officer, David Chaota said: “I am sure they did (complete licencing process) but not from the CAAZ perspective. Airline licences are obtained from the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development. So I don’t know yet if Zimbabwe Airways has the licence and who owns it because we haven’t received the papers.”
Last week, Zimbabwe Airways, which has been advertising executive positions up to chief operating officer in the local press, contracted Sigma Aviation, a leading airline industry recruitment agency to scout for B777 captains.
The airline is offering lucrative perks and salaries, which are significantly higher than those offered by Air Zimbabwe.
“Sigma Aviation is pleased to announce we are accepting applications for B777 captains for our new client, Zimbabwe Airways,” the agency said in a statement.
“Zimbabwe Airlines is a new airline, commencing operations shortly from Harare, Zimbabwe. Successful candidates are expected to take home approximately US$9 137, based on a net basic salary of US$8 000,” the statement added. – FinGaz