Information gleaned from government sources shows that the octogenarian leader decided on not using the services of Air Zimbabwe on his trip to Singapore, where the state media claimed he was sorting out some post studies arrangements for her first born daughter, Bona, although speculation remained high that he could be seeking medical attention.
The state media reported that Mugabe had travelled to Singapore to assist her daughter who recently graduated with an accountancy degree.
While the state appeared victorious in convincing Zimbabweans about the ZANU PF leader’s mission in Singapore, Radio VOP can exclusively reveal that Mugabe dumped Air Zimbabwe which he usually relies upon for his long haul journeys to Asia and other regional and international destinations.
Sources said Mugabe leased a private aircraft owned by Mbada Diamonds, one of the mining firms extracting diamonds in Chiadzwa to ferry him from Harare International Airport to South Africa where he then boarded Singapore Airlines enroute to the Asian country.
“He left on a Mbada plane. The Mbada plane usually flies between Harare and Johannesburg,” said the sources.
Radio VOP could not establish why Mugabe had opted not to fly Air Zimbabwe on his Asian jaunt.
However, Air Zimbabwe, which in January suspended all domestic, regional and international flights, has been operating charter flights which have been generating revenue for the airline and keeping its flight crew in shape.
This is the second time that Mugabe has utilized the services of Mbada’s jet in less five months. In December, the ZANU PF leader was forced to rely on the services of the diamond miner’s plane after failing to secure the services of Air Zimbabwe, whose long haul aircraft, a Boeing 767-200, was holed up in London after developing a technical fault while on a commercial flight.
The wide-bodied aircraft, which services Air Zimbabwe’s international routes and which Mugabe usually charters for his regional and international jaunts developed a technical fault after being impounded at Gatwick International Airport in December by American General Supplies over a US$1.2 million debt.
The plane was only released and arrived in Zimbabwe two days after Mugabe’s departure for his holiday following the intervention by Air Zimbabwe’s engineers who attended to fix it.
Mugabe has previously survived being a victim of Air Zimbabwe’s woes as the national airline’s pilots suspends any of their work boycott to ferry the ageing leader each time he intends to travel.
However, several passengers have had their travel plans disrupted when the airline grounds its planes or suspends flights mainly due to industrial action, fuel shortages and the seizure of the airline’s aircraft.
In January, an Air Zimbabwe flight crew and an advance delegation accompanying Mugabe to an African Union summit hurriedly evacuated an Air Zimbabwe aircraft they had boarded after smoke engulfed the plane just before the ageing octogenarian leader boarded it.
The Boeing aircraft which was about to ferry Mugabe to Ethiopia developed a faulty auxiliary power unit (APU) which pumped smoke into the cabin where some flight crew including pilots, air hostesses and engineers had already settled and waiting for Mugabe to board the plane.
The smoke forced the flight crew and some of delegates accompanying Mugabe to the summit to flee from the plane. Engineers who attended to the aircraft switched off the APU to avoid the blowing of smoke into the cabin and declared the plane fit to fly and Mugabe then departed for Addis Ababa.
After the embarrassing incident, Air Zimbabwe was forced to run a test flight of the plane for 25 minutes before Mugabe boarded it to assure his aides that the aircraft was safe for flying.
In January again, Air Zimbabwe also delayed Mugabe’s return from his holiday in the Far East after bungling flight schedules.
An Air Zimbabwe long haul aircraft, a Boeing 767-200 was barred from flying over Vietnam’s airspace on its way from China to Singapore to pick up the ageing Zimbabwean leader, who had been holidaying in the Far East.
This was after the state run airline was denied flying rights over Vietnam from China and had to use a longer route which flies through the South China Sea and hence delayed Mugabe’s early return from his holiday by several hours.