PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore has effectively displaced through the back door the Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) boss Ripton Muzenda after he and Transport minister Joram Gumbo travelled to Malaysia to seal the troubled airline’s aircraft lease agreement.
By Elias Mambo
This comes on the backdrop of reports that Chikore, who was appointed as AirZim chief operations officer (COO), has been carrying out executive duties, politically sidelining Muzenda.
Sources said Chikore and Gumbo are currently in Malaysia to finalise a deal which will see Malaysian Airways partnering the struggling AirZim.
“Chikore and Gumbo are already in Malaysia but, surprisingly, they did not go with the Air Zimbabwe chief executive officer Ripton Muzenda and not even the board chairperson Chipo Dyanda,” said a source.
As reported by this newspaper, the struggling flag carrier is on the verge of concluding a wet lease with the Malaysian airline after it emerged that a 10-member team comprising key personnel from the bankrupt airline flew to the southeast Asian country to oversee the planning of the ferry flight to Zimbabwe.
Sources close to the developments said the 10 senior staffers, including manager-in-charge of flight operations Tawanda Chitsike, senior engineer Lawrence Mashoko, Martin Gwafa (technical services) and Solomon Musikavanhu (flight operations), travelled to Malaysia last week.
“The team will oversee the planning of the ferry flight to Zimbabwe, meaning flying the aircraft from one position to the other without passengers or cargo. Government has negotiated a wet lease as part of its plans to turn around AirZim,” a source familiar with the developments said.
Sources also said the deal was being facilitated by Chikore and Gumbo to the exclusion of other senior AirZim executives.
Cabinet recently gave Gumbo the nod to seek private partnerships for the US$330 million debt-ridden national carrier. Gumbo has also said his ministry has been engaging potential partners including Malaysian, Kenya, Ethiopia, Singapore and Turkey airlines. At the ailing airline, Muzenda has virtually been rendered redundant as Chikore is doing the day-to-day running of the state-owned company.
“Chikore has effectively displaced Muzenda because of his proximity to the first family. He takes instruction from the family and enjoys direct access to the minister,” one source said. “The First Family should not be involved, but it seems they are giving him ideas and instructions because everything he does is said to be having the blessings of President Robert Mugabe’s family.”