Army rescues Zuma after his jet’s engine leaks
President Jacob Zuma was stranded in Burundi this week when the presidential jet’s engine malfunctioned again.
Air force generals deemed that a small petrol leak posed too much of a risk for his return flight to South Africa and the army deployed a Falcon 900 to Bujumbura on Friday night.
Zuma was in the Burundi capital of Bujumbura to meet heads of state for peace talks amid a bloody Burundi conflict that threatens to spiral out of control.
Defence department spokesperson Simphiwe Dlamini said Zuma boarded the Falcon and it flew back to South Africa in tandem with Inkwazi, the presidential jet.
Dlamini confirmed there was a fuel leak and that the Falcon 900 was sent as part of the security measures to ensure that Zuma returned safely. He stressed that Zuma’s life was never in danger due to the technical problem.
Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa had to quickly step in to presidential duties and attended the ANC Women’s League gala in Sandton on Friday.
He said: “He was on his way to board the aircraft when it didn’t want to move. He would’ve been unable to attend Friday’s gala. We were forced to send another aircraft to fetch him.”
According to presidency spokesperson Bongani Majola, Zuma also missed the 16th Annual National Teaching Awards in Johannesburg yesterday and Ramaphosa stepped in there too.
City Press sister newspaper Rapport reported that Zuma was expected to immediately travel to Durban after he landed to spend time with his family at Nkandla.
This isn’t the first time that Inkwazi has left Zuma high and dry. A similar incident occurred in Russia last year when another technical problem with the Boeing Business Jet surfaced. It led to wasted expenses amounting to millions of rands. A confused struggle between the department of defence, national security and the embassy in Moscow resulted in three jets being hired to bring him back to South Africa.
The issue of the presidential fleet has been dogged by controversy and shortcomings and a new standby jet aircraft was expected to be available for the president from April 1.
According to Dlamini, Armscor was going full steam ahead with the production process, but the details were being kept secret.
Some of the new plane’s requirements included that it must be able to transport 30 passengers nonstop to Moscow, Beijing and New York.
But Dlamini said the weak rand was halting the process because all aircraft acquisitions were priced in dollars.
The snag was that the air force’s estimations were calculated when the rand was at R8 to the dollar, but it has risen to about R16. This would double its price. Interference and chaos with the scheduling of Zuma’s flights last year led to the resignation of the commander of the air force VIP-squadron, Colonel Danny Molete.