Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. File photo: Supplied by Parliament
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. File photo: Supplied by Parliament

SA to splash out on new jet for Zuma

By BIANCA CAPAZORIO Time of article published May 25, 2013

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Cape Town - The defence force is back in the market for purchasing presidential jets as well as planes that will give the military its own airlift capacity.

Previous plans to buy a R2 billion presidential jet and Airbuses were scuppered amid widespread controversy and public outrage.

But now the Defence Ministry is determined to buy the planes as a matter of urgency.

The department has been allocated money by the Treasury and intends splashing out on the new aircraft as soon as possible, according to Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Addressing a breakfast at the Cape Town Press Club at the Castle of Good Hope yesterday, Mapisa-Nqakula said the Department of Defence was spending millions of rand each week chartering aircraft, because many of its planes were so old they belonged in museums.

The minister said the department was looking to buy VVIP jets as well as strategic airlifting capability planes as soon as possible.

“We’re running out of time.”

VVIP refers to “very, very important people” and includes the president, the deputy president, former presidents and the minister and deputy ministers of defence.

“Every week without fail, we pay millions of rand chartering aircraft for strategic airlift capability, which far exceeds the money we would have spent by purchasing,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

“If you look at some of our aircraft, they’re 60 to 62 years old and should be museum pieces and we use them to ferry our people around,” she continued. “I won’t elaborate on some of the experiences I’ve had and what I’ve seen happening, but this process (to buy aircraft) must begin.”

In 2009, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe had to make an emergency landing in the DRC after problems with his jet. In 2011, an aircraft in which Motlanthe was due to travel encountered problems before take-off from the Waterkloof Air Force Base. And in December, a SANDF Dakota crashed in the Drakensberg, killing 11 people.

The minister said: “We don’t know what happened there but that plane was over 60 year old and as far as I’m concerned, no human being should be flying in it.”

She said the Treasury had allocated money for buying the VVIP jets. She would issue directives for the purchase, after which the chief of the SANDF would have to implement it, while complying with the Public Finance Management Act.

Mapisa-Nqakula was part of a delegation led by President Jacob Zuma which has just returned from Russia. Following the visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said South Africa was in talks with Russia about buying passenger jets.

Putin had revealed that these were MS-21 jets. However, they are reportedly going into production only in 2017, and, except for a planned top-end version that is nowhere near production, all the models are mid-range – 5 000km or less – which would make them less than suitable for South Africa’s purposes.

In 2005, South Africa committed to buying eight Airbus A400M planes, intended to enhance the defence force’s airlift capacity and reduce its heavy reliance on ageing chartered Russian cargo planes to transport troops and equipment. The deal was cancelled in 2009 after concerns about its affordability.

In December 2010, in the wake of a series of embarrassments around VIP jet charters, the cabinet approved the medium-term acquisition of four VVIP aircraft.

Last year, shortly after she became defence minister, Mapisa-Nqakula cancelled plans to purchase a “super-bling” presidential jet, a R2 billion Boeing 777-200LR. A deposit had been paid for the aircraft, but after seeking legal opinion, it was determined that the offer to purchase the jet had lapsed.

At the time she said she was looking into a lease contract to act as a stop-gap while they went through a tender process to procure the VVIP jets. The ministry’s about-turn followed a refusal by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to condone a deviation from normal procurement processes.

Saturday Star

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