Marianne Merten

DEFENCE and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu will be called to explain the use of chartered private aircraft to transport President Jacob Zuma to the US, says DA MP David Maynier, who is to submit a parliamentary question on the matter today.

Among his questions would be whether the private charter company had been approved by the Treasury, why the aircraft had to be leased in the first place, who accompanied the president and the costs.

While Sisulu had in the past declined to answer parliamentary questions on VIP flights of the president and his deputy, Maynier said he was determined to get to the bottom of this as potentially millions of taxpayers’ rands had been spent.

“Although I expect the minister to try and stonewall, I will try and pursue,” he told The Star. While exact costs are not available, charters can cost $14 000 (R108 000) an hour.

It is understood the charter was necessary as the presidential plane, the Boeing business jet, was undergoing maintenance.

There was only one presidential plane with long-range capacity, said defence analyst Helmoed Heitman, and if it was undergoing maintenance, which could mean it had been “stripped down”, depending on the type of maintenance required, that was it.

“When we bought this one, there was a lot of shouting, and calls that the president should fly SAA,” he said. “We bought, and then we underbought.”

Heitman said the additional planes could have been put to other uses, as air ambulances, for example. “It’s all very well to say the president should fly (commercial) aircraft. It’s actually inconvenient for everyone. It’s penny wise, pound foolish,” he said, adding there were also security concerns.

The presidential plane is operated by the South African Air Force Squadron 21.

Arms dealer and ANC backer Ivor Ichikowitz, who was linked to the president’s charter flight to the US in Eyewitness News reports this week, did not respond to messages. However, it would not be the first time Ichikowitz has come to the aid of the president. In 2008, Zuma was flown to Lebanon and Kazakhstan, reportedly to raise funds for the ANC, according to the Mail & Guardian.

One of the companies within the Paramount Group, of which Ichikowitz is executive chairman, is an aviation outfit, Fortune Air, which owns a Boeing Super 727, two Gulfstream GIISPs, a Bell 222 helicopter, a Hawker 800B and a Cessna Caravan, according to the website.

It is understood Fortune Air has contracts with various government departments, including defence, to provide charter services worth several tens of millions of rands.