REPORT: New presidential jet expected to become reality

BY CHARL BOSCH - FEBRUARY 29, 2016

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has reportedly started with procurement plans for the purchase of a brand new presidential jet for President Jacob Zuma.

This comes after the current Boeing 737 Business Jet, also known as Inkwazi, left the President and his delegation stranded in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura on Saturday, due to suspected mechanical problems.

“We’ve been engaging with our procurement agency Armcor, which is the responsible authority for procurement. I can confirm that in view of this perpetual problem, we’re planning to re-look at all options available to us, to deal with this matter urgently,” SANDF spokesperson Simphiwe Dlamini told Eyewitness News.

In November last year, Armscor published a series of details on its websites about the specifications of the new plane, which some claimed would cost in the region of the R4-billion. The details were later removed following wide-spread criticism from opposition parties and ordinary South Africans.

Days after the claims initially broke, a spokesperson for Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said she had become “fed-up” with the constant hiring of jet for Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, and that the need for a new VVIP plane “could no longer be ignored”.

Armscor CEO Kevin Wakeford later revealed at a media briefing that an interim jet could be on the tarmac of the Waterkloof Air Force Base by mid-March, but that it was still looking into the possibility of a buying a plane.

“I don’t know where the R4-billion comes from, because quite frankly we cannot afford it. We are looking at a whole variety of options. The affordability will determine the selection of the eventual solution and financing options,” he said at the time.

Speaking in a statement, Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Kobus Marais, said shoddy maintenance and not the age of Inkwazi, bought 15 years ago, was likely to blame for the newest in a series of breakdowns.

Documents obtained by CityPress last year showed that mentioning of a new plane was first made in 2011, when former President Kgalema Motlanthe was left grounded at Waterkloof due to mechanical problems.

“While we appreciate the inconvenience of a faulty plane, the reality is that, given the current economic turmoil, coupled with our country’s unemployment crisis, South Africa simply cannot afford to spend R4-billion on a luxury jet for the President which we maintain he does not need,” Marais said.

“The procurement of a new jet should not be the priority of government for the President to carry-out his official duties, especially not in the context of a strained economic environment. [Instead] the Presidency should focus its financial mandate on the pressing issues facing all South Africans, not the luxury of our state head”.

In a similar reaction, Congress of the People (Cope) spokesperson Dennis Bloem said it is likely that the purchase had reached an advanced stage, despite the country’s economic challenges.

“The priorities that the government must assemble should place the needs of the people first. The purchasing of an executive jet cannot and must never be a priority,” Bloem said.

“We urge the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, not to budge on this issue. He must not succumb to pressure to borrow even more money to make possible the purchase of a new executive jet for Mr Zuma. In the present economic climate, South Africa cannot spend R4-billion on an executive jet”.