Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has arrived in Stockholm, Sweden for an official visit to the Nordic countries. He flew on a commercial flight following the cancellation of his flight on Monday due to technical problems with a charter aircraft.
A South African Air Force-operated (SAAF) aircraft encountered problems shortly before its scheduled departure from the Waterkloof Air Force Base. Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has received a report from the Acting Chief of the SANDF, Lt General AM Shilubane on the technical challenges experienced by the aircraft.
The aircraft failed to pass necessary safety checks, resulting in the SAAF cancelling the flight.
Sisulu in a statement said the SANDF was embarking on a process to secure two new reliable planes for use by the president, deputy president and former presidents. This process started in February 2011 and is to be concluded as soon as possible in line with government procurement processes. “Yesterday’s failure of the Deputy President to depart to Finland is very unacceptable [sic]. This is also an indication of the challenges we have with our old fleet of planes we inherited from the pre-1994 government,” Sisulu said.
“They are now old and unreliable, as a result we must rent. As demonstrated in this case, even those we are renting can also not be reliable. This leaves us with no option but to own our planes that are reliable and secure.” Sisulu added that the age of the VIP fleet has been a concern since she took office in 2009 and was receiving the highest attention from the Council on Defence as they spend “60% to 70% of their time under maintenance and in service [sic]”.
“We need to have our own reliable fleet that will allow the President, Deputy President and other dignitaries to be transported by us to travel in safe and reliable planes at all times. The SAAF must guarantee the safety of our leaders at all times, there is no room for mistakes.”
The delay resulted in the cancellation of the Finland leg of Motlanthe’s mission to the Nordic countries. While in Sweden and Denmark, the Deputy President will further strengthen political and economic relations, promote the African Agenda, share views on the reform of global governance institutions and exchange notes of preparations for COP17. The visit takes place within the framework of the Declaration of Intent signed in 2008 between South Africa and Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden concerning partnerships in Africa. As a result of South Africa’s growing regional and international stature, the Nordic countries have been keen to explore ways to expand the existing relationship.
The Nordics reportedly also see South Africa as playing a key role in the development of relations with sub-Saharan Africa. Motlanthe is accompanied by the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Fransman, the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry T Tobias Pokolo and the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Professor H Mkhize.
Motlanthe has had a bad run with charter flights. Last month, Sisulu’ office had to deny a Bombardier Global Express aircraft carrying Motlanthe to the opening of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand did not make an emergency landing in Wellington. It did concede the aircraft missed its first landing slot due to a faulty warning light.
MoD Head of Media Services Ndivhuwo Mabaya said in a statement that on the plane’s first scheduled approach to the airport, the pilots noted a warning light suggesting that there might be something wrong in the plane brakes or tyre. “As a precautionery measure they decided to miss their first landing slot in order to cycle the airport whilst verifying the cause of the warning light. As a standard procedure the airport put on standby emergency services.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance party in a statement at the time said the “incident also raises questions as to why the deputy president could not have travelled to New Zealand on a commercial aircraft? This would not only have been a safe, but also a more economical option.”
A night refuelling landing involving a leased Douglas DC9 nearly ended in disaster for Motlanthe on the night of August 31, 2009. The aircraft, carrying Motlanthe, then-deputy international relations and cooperation minister Sue van der Merwe as well as deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla had been scheduled to land at refuel in Bangui in the Central African Republic but could not land due to cloud cover and deficient night or bad weather landing aids, reports at the time said. It then diverted to Gbadolite in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and circled the dark airport while using its wing lights to find a runway. On landing, one of the rear wheels burst.