GOVERNMENT has set in motion plans to acquire a helicopter for President Emmerson Mnangagwa amid concerns over his security following a spate of hair-raising incidents aboard ageing and unreliable Air Force of Zimbabwe choppers, inside sources have told The NewsHawks.
The sources say the plan is to get a new-model helicopter for Mnangagwa from either Russia or China.
The issue is being treated as an urgent matter, as election season nears. Although both Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba and Information permanent secretary Nick Magwana did not respond to several phone calls and messages from The NewsHawks, high-level sources say that the acquisition of a new helicopter is being treated as a priority.
This is not only for safety reasons, but also in view of the impending 2023 general elections, which will see Mnangagwa hitting the campaign trail in earnest next year seeking re-election under tougher conditions than in 2018.
“It is a real big issue. The President needs a safe and modern helicopter for the local trips, seeing that 2023 is around the corner. Apart from that, he needs to be going around the country to assess the various projects by government, which are also now being used as part of the Zanu PF campaign,” an official said.
“It’s a matter of time before they buy it.”
A government official also pointed to a tweet by Mangwana on 11 November hinting that the acquisition of a helicopter was a priority following the President’s frightening mid-air incidents.
“Whatever the veracity of this story, a case for a new, safe and dynamic presidential helicopter has been made,” Mangwana wrote on his verified Twitter account on 11 November in response to a story by a local daily newspaper.
The report had said two of Mnangagwa’s helicopters were on 10 November forced to turn back and make a sudden landing at Marondera Golf Course while on his way to Chimanimani, due to a technical fault. Government officials, however, said it was an issue of bad weather.
This incident followed another hair-raising episode which left heads rolling in the Air Force after Mnangagwa’s presidential helicopter was dramatically forced into an emergency landing more than 60 kilometres south-west of Harare in August due to technical failure.
The emergency landing incident happened in the Sandringham area, Matsvaire village, in Chegutu district, when Mnangagwa was coming from his Kwekwe farm. The President frequently flies out of Harare to his Precabe Farm in Sherwood, Kwekwe.
The 79-year-old leader, who has spoken several times about his passion for farming, including in his recently published biography, A Life of Sacrifice: Emmerson Mnangagwa, often leaves his state residence in Harare on Sunday mornings for the farm where he grows several crops and rears livestock.
Upon the Sandringham incident, Mnangagwa’s security details, including an aide-de-camp, marksman from the Presidential Guard, a medic and intelligence officers, scrambled to cordon off the scene, as the team also worked out an emergency rescue plan to complete their 45-minute journey.
Again in August, Mnangagwa was forced to make a last-minute postponement of his flight to Mutare, where he had been expected to officially open an industrial and medicinal oxygen plant, due to bad weather. The NewsHawks in September reported that Mnangagwa’s fleet of presidential helicopters was depleted in April when an Air Force of Zimbabwe chopper crashed in Acturus, 30 kilometres east of Harare.
As investigations into the emergency landing of one of Mnangagwa’s choppers progressed, information gathered by The NewsHawks indicated that the Augusta Bell 412 which crashed in April, killing two pilots, as well as a technician and a child on the ground, was on a test flight for presidential use.
The Air Force, which maintains Mnangagwa’s helicopter and military choppers that escort him when he flies within the country, has been blighted by aviation accidents in recent years due to bad weather, human error and the use of ageing aircraft.
Earlier reports had suggested that in a bid to replace the dilapidated equipment, Mnangagwa in April this year acquired a new helicopter, but that has not been seen flying.