Itai Dzamara/Dumisani Muleya
AFTER commandeering an Air Zimbabwe aircraft to attend a summit on the Information Society in Geneva, Switzerland, last month, President Robert Mugabe thi
s week once again took advantage of the national airline’s depleted fleet to ferry him around the Far East.
Mugabe, who is on his annual leave, took possession of the same Boeing 767-200 plane while he was in Malaysia to travel to Indonesia and Singapore.
The aircraft, an Air Zimbabwe cash cow, plies the Harare-London route and generates about $3 billion a week for the troubled national carrier.
High-level sources said Mugabe left the country early last week on an Air Zimbabwe plane to Johannesburg on his way to Malaysia for both a holiday and business.
He left the Air Zimbabwe plane in Johannesburg and proceeded on a commercial flight to Kuala Lumpur. After vacationing for a few days in Malaysia, Mugabe, who is travelling with his family, met the country’s new Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for a 30-minute courtesy call on Tuesday.
The two leaders discussed trade and investment issues. Badawi recently succeeded Mugabe’s close ally, Mahathir Mohamad.
Mugabe on Wednesday also met Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri for talks that centred on enhancing economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.
Indonesian Foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda said his country could soon send a delegation to Zimbabwe to discuss trade and investment issues.
During the meeting, Megawati invited Mugabe to attend the 50th anniversary of the histo-ric Asia/Africa Conference next year. Mugabe said Zimbabwe has decided to open an embassy in Jakarta by the end of this year.
Observers in Jakarta said statements by both Wirajuda and Megawati appeared carefully measured to avoid any blanket endorsement of Mugabe.
Sources said Mugabe on Monday called Air Zimbabwe while still in Malaysia to send the 767-200, which had to be dispatched immediately to take him to Jakarta.
“He called on Monday and demanded the plane and it was sent to Malaysia immediately,” a source said. “The plane left with a number of big containers in it apparently to carry his goods and was due to be away for five days. A lot of passengers travelling between Harare and London who use that plane were left stranded.”
Mugabe is expected back home today or tomorrow from Singapore where he made his last stop during his trip to the now preferred Far East holiday destinations. Over the past three years Mugabe has taken his holidays in the Far East following the closure to him of European destinations.
Early last year the First Couple went to Singapore and brought back large quantities of personal goods.
Although he returns to work in early February, Mugabe was understood to be coming home early because his children are due back at school next week.
Mugabe’s habit of commandeering Air Zimbabwe planes for his personal use has been costing the beleaguered national airline billions of dollars in lost revenue.
“Air Zimbabwe will lose more than $3 billion during the five days that he has the plane because this time around we had many passengers travelling to London,” a source at the national airline said.