Inkwazi could have brought Zuma home from Burundi – claim

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There was nothing major wrong with the presidential jet Inkwazi when it was announced last month President Jacob Zuma had been left “stranded” in Burundi by what the Department of Defence’s head of communications called “a technical problem”.

There was, according to Afrikaans Sunday paper Rapport, a South African shadow aircraft standing by and ready to fly from Bujumbura in the event of problems with the Presidential Boeing 737 bizjet. The aircraft, which was airworthy, would not have been able to fly the President because the flight crew did not have the necessary safety clearances.

According to Rapport the shadow aircraft was apparently hired by the Department of State security at a cost of about R650 000.

The newspaper said two SA Air Force (SAAF) sources indicated to it the assurances of both flight and technical crews of Inkwazi that the BBJ could fly safely had been disregarded and a decision taken to send another aircraft – 21 Squadron’s Falcon 900 – to bring Zuma and his party back from Burundi peace negotiations.

DoD head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, is reported as saying problems with Inkwazi were “unacceptable” and pressure would be put on Armscor for a new jet.
“In view of Inkwazi’s constant problems we are going to negotiate with Armscor urgently to resolve the issue.”

Armscor is on record as saying it was awaiting input from the SAAF before any further steps could be taken in the acquisition process. Armscor chief executive Kevin Wakeford told a November media briefing on the new acquisition that Defence and Military veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula wanted another VIP aircraft at AFB Waterkloof by March 31 this year.

Dlamini also said the DoD was sticking to its statement that the aircraft (Inkwazi) had been unserviceable and the President was stranded. He rejected Rapport’s version “with contempt” and said it was “a deliberate attempt to embarrass the military’s supreme commander and the defence minister. The DoD will fulfil its responsibility for Zuma’s safe transport without fear or compromise”.

Inkwazi was apparently grounded because of a minor fuel leak that was repaired by technicians and ready in time for the next day’s planned return flight. The leak and its repair, it was reported, was allegedly well within Boeing’s safety regulations.

The decision to bring Zuma back to South Africa aboard the Falcon 900 was done for security reasons but Dlamini stressed the president was never in any danger.

The Afrikaans weekly also reported that a pair of SAAF C-130BZs and two chartered cargo aircraft arrived in Bujumbura before the peace talks. The aircraft were carrying South African soldiers, Special Forces and equipment to be used to help secure the city.