Weekend reports have it the SA Air Force (SAAF) plans to acquire a regional aircraft, probably a mid-size bizjet, for use by President Jacob Zuma.
The Sunday Times reported: “The on-off again bid to buy President Zuma a new plane is back in with discussions underway to purchase a R1.3 billion, 18-seater private jet, fitted with secure locks to keep ‘foreign currency, weapons and classified documents’.”
The latest acquisition, according to the Sunday Times, has not been advertised and is also not listed on the Armscor website as it is being tailored for a specific supplier.
“We have received absolutely nothing, either in the form of an instruction or task from the Department of Defence,” was how Armscor General Manager: Marketing and Business Development, Lulu Mzili, responded when asked about the reported new acquisition.
Last year Armscor said the acquisition of a VVIP aircraft for use by the President and other senior members of the executive was not going to happen because none of the bidders met all the tender requirements.
The Sunday Times reports that SAAF Brigadier General Mzayifani Innocent Buthelezi, a director of air transport (he is Director: Air Transport And Maritime Services) met SAAF Chief and “military commander” Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang in Pretoria last week to discuss the “acquisition of a…transport aircraft”.
A 19 page document, reportedly seen by the paper, shows “it is essential one regional aircraft” is acquired. The new jet will be used for shorter trips with Inkwazi, the Presidential Boeing bizjet, used for long haul flights.
The acquisition has been given the project name of Moeketsi and apparently states the aircraft must be able to carry 18 passengers, excluding crew. The paper said its primary mission would be “air support to the office of the president and deputy president” and facilities would have to include an executive lounge, entertainment capabilities and facilities to safeguard valuables, foreign currency and classified documents.
The paper confirms the tender has not been “re-advertised yet” adding “a source with full knowledge of the latest bid told the Sunday Times this week the process to buy the jet had been kept secret this time round because a deal was being tailored for a specific supplier. “This deal has been a subject of confidential discussions by top air force chiefs since the beginning of the year and, from what I can gather, it won’t even go out for open tender because of the veil of secrecy surrounding it,” the source said.”
Mzili told defenceWeb that Armscor knows nothing about Project Moeketsi.
Armscor chief executive Kevin Wakeford referred questions about the proposed acquisition to the Department of Defence. Spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini told the Sunday Times he was not in a position to respond.
One who did respond was opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence minister Kobus Marais, who said Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula would be on the receiving end of questions to provide clarity on any possible new aircraft acquisition.
“The Minister must confirm the intention to acquire a short-haul jet, whether the said meeting between members of the top brass took place and must release any and all relevant documentation relating to this lavish purchase as well as a detailed justification for the purchase,” he said, adding the DA was “vehemently opposed to spending billions on a luxury jet”.
Marias maintains the money would be better spent on providing particularly young South Africans with the skills needed to find employment.
“Improving the lives of South Africans should be the priority, not one man’s unjustifiable need for luxury,” he said.
The SAAF’s VIP 21 Squadron flies a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ – Inkwazi) acquired in 2003, two 1980s era Falcon 50s, a 24-year old Falcon 900B, and two 34-year old Cessna Citations, but these are often deemed insufficient and aircraft are leased – especially when aircraft are down for maintenance, although Zuma seems reluctant to use the BBJ.