By Xolisani Ncube
Transport minister Jorum Gumbo has come out guns blazing against Fly Africa after the airline queried his statements concerning President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recent trip to South Africa.
Gumbo told The Standard in an exclusive interview recently that Mnangagwa chose to use Fly Africa instead of Air Zimbabwe because the government wanted to avoid disrupting the national airline’s scheduled flights.
He said the government decided to forgo money that might have been raised from the chartered flight, which could have been as much as $200 000.
However, Fly Africa wrote to The Standard trying to force the newspaper to retract the statements uttered by Gumbo, saying they insinuated that it overcharged the government for the chartered flight.
The airline also took issue with the minister’s assertion that it was idle and was “owned by white people.”
Fly Africa said it only charged the government $10 00 for the flight and said it doubted the minister had made the claims attributed to him in the interview.
Gumbo said his statements had been misinterpreted by the airline as he never said government was charged $200 000 for the flight.
“When I mentioned $200 000 in the interview, it was an example of the money we were prepared to pay or even more to ensure that the president would go to South Africa at the same time without inconveniencing Air Zimbabwe and its clients,” the minister said.
“It is unfortunate that people at Fly Africa failed to read simple English.
“I did not say we paid $200 000 or gave a specific figure paid, but I said we opted to charter a private airline for any amount even $200 000 or more so long we were not going to disturb Air Zimbabwe.”
Gumbo said it was not his responsibility to charter planes for the president’s trips.
“It is the duty of the Office of the President and Cabinet to do the bookings for the president and I was speaking from a policy perspective.
“It is only that office and the concerned airline who can tell us about the amounts involved, but it must be noted that hiring a plane is not as cheap as people want to portray.”
Gumbo also defended his assertion that the airline was idle, saying as far as he knew Fly Africa was yet to resume operations.
“I said that with full knowledge of the industry and how Fly Africa was operating because I am the minister of Transport and I know, which airline is flying and which one is not,” he said.
“More so, it is some of their people at Fly Africa who have told us [ministry] that the will start to operate at full capacity in March next year as they were still looking for more planes.
“I am sorry if they were annoyed by the word idle; I retract it and replace it by saying they are not very active compared to other local airlines.
“Even as we were on the flight to South Africa with the president, one of their members told me that they were not commercially active but were working on that and would do so beginning of March.
“If they failed to understand that English, well we apologise”.
The minister said he did not understand why Fly Africa took offence after he said some of its owners were white.
“We did not say the white people at the airline are foreigners, being white does not mean you are not an indigenous person,” he added.
“I am the minister and I have interacted with the top people at Fly Africa.
“I know for a fact that there are white people there who are Zimbabweans and also black people too. If to them being white means a foreigner, then again, we are sorry.
“As government, we don’t discriminate basing on colour or race. As long as you are a Zimbabwean, we treat you the same.
“We are sorry that they again failed to understand simple English and made their own interpretation to the effect that when one is white, he or she is a foreigner.”
Fly Africa managing director Cassidy Mugwagwa could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone went unanswered.