FRESH details have emerged showing that former president Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore (whose official surname on his identity and travel documents is Mutsahuni) is certainly not an aviation captain, but a first officer although he has publicly claimed that he is one.
By Bernard Mpofu
Chikore’s false claims to be a captain also comes as it also surfaced that dodgy airline Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways) hired an expatriate, Ionica Radicanu, as a manager in charge of quality and safety, when she is not registered with the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe — hence not qualified for the job.
As the ZimAirways saga takes another twist, two of the airline’s Boeing 777 planes could be impounded in Malaysia due to delays by the Zimbabwean government in paying over US$1 million maintenance fees incurred over the last two years.
Contrary to reports that the recently purchased ZimAirways Boeing 777, which had already been delivered to Zimbabwe, had left Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport for the south-eastern Asian country on Africa Day for “A Check” routine service, investigations by the Zimbabwe Independent have shown that the aircraft left Harare after senior management advised government that it would incur more costs while parked at the airport. The two planes — Z-RGM which was delivered in April and the yet-to-arrive Z-NBE — now risk being impounded as the airline wallows in debt.
Sources said the decision to fly back the controversial plane to Malaysia came after Transport minister Joram Gumbo last month summoned senior Air Zimbabwe officials to his offices following the national airline’s refusal to accommodate the Boeing aircraft in its hangars citing risk, among other issues.
Aviation industry sources privy to developments told the Zimbabwe Independent that while ZimAirways consultant and de facto chief executive Chikore was in the United Kingdom undergoing three-week simulator training, the plane was flown back to Malaysia for storage until all the registration and paperwork has been completed.
This decision, however, infuriated Chikore who was expecting to carry out his line training using the same aircraft, confirming earlier reports by this paper that he was not a full captain. Boeing Captain Mark Pierce, according to sources, was supposed to oversee Chikore’s line training.
Sources said Chikore was in the UK between May 3 and May 28 where he attended a Boeing simulator training school in London. The training, sources added, cost US$40 000.
“Since purchasing the plane, maintenance costs accrued to Advanced Air Traffic Systems (AAT) of Malaysia have reached US$1 million and now the plane risks being impounded. The company is owed US$644 000 for maintenance and components for Z-RGM and the US$500 000 for Z-NBE. AAT can hold the planes as surety. The decision to take it back to Malaysia was arrived at after technical personnel realised that nothing much had been done by government in terms of making sure that the plane was secure when it was taken delivery of in April,” an aviation source said.
“Engineer Martin Gwafa would write weekly reports on what needed to be done when the plane landed at Robert Mugabe airport, but little progress was made so management advised minister Gumbo to fly back the plane to reduce the costs.”
The sources said to keep up with its maintenance programme, some of the requirements that were required while the plane was in Harare included daily maintenance, fly 100 hours a month, a hangar and Boeing 777-rated engineers.
Efforts to get comment from ZimAirways were in vain. Contacted for comment on whether or not Chikore had attended simulator training in London, a terse Gumbo said there was nothing amiss with that.
“I cannot be reporting every day about what my officers are doing every day. That is not my mandate,” said Gumbo.
“Who doesn’t know that Simba is a pilot and that he can also undergo training? Who doesn’t know that officers who operate trains also undergo training? Please give Simba some peace, he is also human.”
Gumbo and Chikore got entangled in a US$70 million aircraft purchase scandal which involves state-owned Air Zimbabwe and ZimAirways.
The saga has also sucked in Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa who tried to clear the air over the issue, together with Gumbo, although their intervention only managed to provoke more questions than answers.
Gumbo and Chinamasa’s explanation was that the four Boeing 777-200 planes were bought from Malaysia Airlines through their sole agent PricewaterhouseCoopers Kuala Lumpur, but are now being leased to ZimAirways via the Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company (ZALC). They claimed ZimAirways and ZALC are owned by government. Prior to that and to the contrary, Gumbo had always maintained these are private companies owned by Zimbabwean diasporans.