Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Joram Gumbo has contradicted reports that President Emmerson Mnangagwa pulled a “Magufuli” and travelled economy class to South Africa for his first state visit on Thursday.
Some reports went on to claim that the President had travelled with a delegation of 10 people on Fly Africa which costs $200 per person for a return ticket from Harare to Johannesburg.
However, Gumbo revealed that the president had in fact chartered the plane at a cost of $200 000. Gumbo also claimed that he had no knowledge on whether Fly Africa was owned by people linked to Mnangagwa as some people have alleged.
In an interview with the weekly publication, The Standard, Gumbo said:
Look, generally, the bookings for the head of state and government, be it the current one or the former, are done by the Office of the President and Cabinet.
We are not involved and they pay. However, in this case, Air Zimbabwe is operating with one plane and this is the peak season. Their flights are fully booked at the moment.
Should you disturb their schedule just to accommodate the president or you look for an alternative?
We have a desire to see Air Zimbabwe being viable and we opted to hire a plane, which was lying idle. Those guys at Fly Africa are not very active and we said, it is better to use their plane and pay something like $200 000 than to disturb Air Zimbabwe, which is trying to grow its market share and be a reliable airline in Africa.
On the issue of Fly Africa being owned by people linked to the president or not, I have no information to that effect.
All I know is that the airline is owned by white people but is registered in Zimbabwe.
As far as I know, it was the only airline, which was idle and affordable for the trip.
We could not disturb our Air Zimbabwe and prejudice it in terms of long-term business benefits. Look, the single aircraft that flies to South Africa also goes to Bulawayo then to Victoria Falls and back to South Africa and then to Harare.
This is a very crucial time, we have tourists coming into the country and we earn something as a country.
We can’t risk all that just to fly the president and get $200 000 or so from OPC. If you look at your economics there, you will realise that we did the right thing.
The issue that as a country we should focus on is to have more planes that fly and are permitted to land outside the country.
Our planes need retooling. They are old. We have the other plane, which is stuck in Egypt because we could not pay for the service, it’s a big challenge.