HARARE – First lady Auxillia Mnangagwa was flown home by private jet on Monday, ZimLive has learnt.
Mnangagwa attended a meeting of the Merck Foundation in Dubai that tackled the stigmatisation of women with infertility problems, together with 10 other first ladies.
She told reporters travelling with her that the charity had pledged to open fertility clinics in Zimbabwe, and train doctors on women’s reproductive health.
The first lady landed at the Robert Mugabe International Airport at 11.20PM aboard a luxuriously-fitted Airbus A318-112(CJ) Elite, previously used by her husband President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The Airbus, with registration A6-CAS, is owned by Constellation Aviation of Dubai. It flew back to its base on Tuesday.
President Mnangagwa last flew the same plane after it was hired from Dubai to take him from Harare to Bulawayo and back, drawing sharp criticism from Zimbabweans who questioned the Zanu PF leader’s costly affinity for private jets.
Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba, justifying the 76-year-old’s 30 foreign trips in 15 months since taking power in a military coup in 2017, said “diplomacy does not come cheap”.
Said Charamba: “You ask me who is footing the bill for the president? Well, who is flying in this case? The president, right? So who do you want to foot the bill? It’s government because he’s not travelling for his personal business. This is what international engagements come with.
“We would want to be part of the global village and we have to carry the cost. I often hear people say this and that, but if we want that global presence, the state has to meet the cost that this comes along with.”
Mnangagwa has since contradicted his spokesman, at least on one recent foreign trip, saying it was fully paid for by his hosts, the United Arab Emirates.
He told the Zanu PF central committee that he had told Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Sultan Al Nahyan that “we have a challenge of planes”, adding: “So every time I want to travel, I will just call and he will send us the plane.”
It is not clear if the UAE paid for his wife’s trip, and what the Middle Eastern country will get in return for the largesse.
The first lady participated at the Dubai event running from March 28 to April 1 alongside the wives of heads of state from Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Botswana, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Namibia, Liberia, Mozambique, Mauritania and Malawi.
Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck Group, a German multinational pharmaceutical, chemical and life sciences company headquartered in Darmstadt, is headed by CEO Rasha Kelej. The charity has been making an aggressive push in Africa with its ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ campaign that seeks to reduce the stigmatisation of infertile women, and empower them to live independent lives. – ZimLive