SANDF defends Cyril Ramaphosa’s R1.6m a day SAA chartered flight

President Cyril Ramaphosa in his capacity as a SADC facilitator arrives in Maputo to discuss developments in Lesotho. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa in his capacity as a SADC facilitator arrives in Maputo to discuss developments in Lesotho. Picture: GCIS

Published Aug 23, 2022


Tshwarelo Hunter Mogakane

Pretoria - The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has defended its decision to hire a R1.6 million a day SAA chartered flight for President Cyril Ramaphosa, which flew 14 people to the DRC even though it has a 300-seat capacity, last week.

Claiming that the presidential jet has been “decommissioned”, the SANDF said it had to source alternative means of transport for Ramaphosa and his team when they travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the 42nd Ordinary Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of State and Government.

The use of the SAA charter Boeing BBJ and the cost involved have raised questions about Ramaphosa’s financial prudence after it emerged from sources that the aircraft allegedly spent a night at Air Force Base Waterkloof (ABW), at a fee of R1.6 million a day, before picking him up.

It is also unclear why he could not use Inkwazi, his official presidential jet. The use of the jet comes at a time when critics are still up in arms over the government’s sale of its majority stake in SAA to the Takatso consortium for R57.

The SAA Charter Boeing BBJ which the SANDF hired for President Cyril Ramaphosa for his trip to the DRC on August 16. Picture: File

According to reliable sources, the Airbus left OR Tambo at about 5pm on August 15 and landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base within 10 minutes, where it parked overnight, at an additional cost.

The expenditure was incurred at a time when the SANDF is too broke to deploy the military to deal with foreign nationals involved in illegal mining and crimes against community members living near closed mines.

When the Pretoria News approached Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya for comment last week, he sent the media questions to the SANDF, which also failed to answer the questions. Magwenya refused to comment on whether using state funds to support a company that the government had sold for next to nothing was not a conflict of interest.

“The president’s flight arrangements are managed by the SA Air Force. Refer your query to the Air Force via the Department of Defence,” said Magwenya.

SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini failed to respond to specific questions last week despite promising to do so. He instead released a short media statement.

“The SA Air Force is responsible for official flights undertaken by the president of the Republic, and under normal circumstances the president and members of his delegation would travel aboard the presidential aircraft Inkwazi.

“Inkwazi and other executive aircraft are out of commission. In addition, Kinshasa offers limited regular commercial flights.

“The absence of such flights would have delayed the president’s immediate return from the summit,” said Dlamini.

He said the air force sourced quotes from different service providers, including SAA.

“SAA filed the lowest quote at under R1.6m. Two quotes for significantly smaller aircraft came close to R1.9m each.

“The flight to Kinshasa carried 14 passengers and the return flight 55. These numbers do not include SA Air Force crew members,” Dlamini said, referring questions of possible conflict of interest back to Magwenya.

SAA spokesperson Vimla Maistry said there was no conflict of interest in Ramaphosa booking flights from the airline, in spite of the government having sold its SAA stake for close to nothing.

“We have a charter service and we are often asked to transport different dignitaries and high-profile people. The fact that there’s a Takatso deal between SAA and the government has nothing to do with us.

“Our duty is to provide quotations when asked to do so, but we cannot disclose client details, even if the client chooses to do so on their own,” said Maistry.

The DA has called on Ramaphosa to apologise for “wasting taxpayers’ money” on chartering the plane.

“This bad judgement comes a mere week after Defence Minister Thandi Modise wasted SANDF money on appeasing her Russian comrades in Moscow.

“Four years ago, President Ramaphosa had a PR field day when pictures of him travelling economy class went viral. One wonders what happened to this frugality,” said DA parliamentary spokesperson on defence Kobus Marais.

Marais accused the SANDF of failing to pay its subscription fees to the Jeppesen Aviation Database, which has rendered the whole air force VIP fleet not airworthy.

“It is outrageous that the SANDF would waste money in this way. The subscription for the fleet to the Jeppesen database costs R300 000 a year. How has the SANDF failed to make payments for months, yet it has money to fund this blunder?” he said.

Pretoria News