PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe flew out to Uruguay, while his Zanu PF party youths are in Russia, both using Air Zimbabwe’s long-haul planes, leaving the national flag carrier with only one aircraft that sources said is not working.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Mugabe is attending the World Health Organisation (WHO) conference on communicable diseases in Montevideo while politburo secretary for youths Kudzi Chipanga led a delegation of over 100 people to Sochi, Russia, for an obscure meeting at which the Zanu PF leader will be honoured, among other leaders, for “fighting imperialism”.
Last month, Mugabe splurged over $10 million after his wife First Lady Grace and close relatives tagged along with 70 other “officials” to the United Nations General Assembly in New York at a time when the country is facing crippling cash shortages.
“He (Mugabe) used an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767 plane while Chipanga and the other youths are likely to be using the Boeing 737,” NewsDay heard.
“The First Lady left the country late on Sunday. She was going to Russia, but was expected to stop over in China.”
Mugabe was, according to sources, initially scheduled to travel to Russia, but reportedly changed his mind at the 11th hour “because the Sochi meeting is low-key”.
“The President would have been the only world leader to attend and even Russian President Vladimir Putin is not expected anywhere near the event,” insiders said.
The Uruguay trip, it has emerged, is also a “very low-key event”, but Mugabe rode on the fact that it’s being hosted by a global body.
According to sources, three planes were chartered, one which went with 113 youths who were reportedly paid $3 000 each in allowances. The other plane was reportedly chartered for Grace flying to Russia via China, while Mugabe went to Uruguay with an estimated delegation of 80 government officials and hangers-on.
Opposition People’s Democratic Party leader Tendai Biti yesterday accused Mugabe of treating Zimbabwe as “his farm”.
“Between 1500 and 1600, the Portuguese explorers in this part of the world took possession of vast tracts of land known at the time as prazos. This is what Mugabe sees Zimbabwe as. He sees this country as a prazo and Zimbabwe needs a revolution to remove this latter-day prazo owner in the form of Mugabe and his family. It’s sad,” Biti said.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu was equally at a loss for words.
“Mugabe’s continued disregard of public opinion to travel non-stop shows the depth of State capture in Zimbabwe. His wife travels at State expense even though she is not a government official. The Mugabes have Zimbabwe where they want, turned this country into their fiefdom and one can just wonder about the effect on Treasury. The little semblance of nationhood we were left with is dissipating with each passing day,” Gutu said.
But Information minister Simon Khaya Moyo said the opposition was misinformed.
“They must stop dreaming because they have no idea of the benefits the country will draw from that meeting. There are Heads of State from other countries attending and that cannot be low-key by any stretch of the imagination,” Khaya Moyo said.
It has also been learnt that Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 737 plane is effectively grounded in Sochi waiting to pick up the Zanu PF youth delegation comprising over 100 members.
“They selected 10 youths from each province plus members of the national executive. Chipanga will receive the award on behalf of the President, but the First Lady is expected to attend the event,” another source said.
Mugabe has shown no signs of letting up on his love for international travel, draining the already depleted national purse. While the size of Mugabe’s entourage could not be established last night, the Zanu PF leader has a penchant for huge travelling parties.
State media reported that Mugabe had travelled with Walter Mzembi (Foreign Affairs), David Parirenyatwa (Health) and presidential spokesperson George Charamba, among a host of officials and hangers-on. Charamba is on record as arguing “diplomacy does not come cheap” while defending Mugabe’s extravagant travel expenditure.
Mugabe last year blew $53m on travel alone while State allocations for the upgrade of dilapidated infrastructure in hospitals just topped $20m. In March, Mugabe chartered a Bahrain-operated 767 Boeing Business Jet, owned by Comlux Aviation, for which government paid $1m in four days.