High flyers on president's jet Inkwazi cost taxpayers tens of millions a year

09 January 2024 - 18:23
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President Cyril Ramaphosa celebrates his 70th birthday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa celebrates his 70th birthday.

Defence minister Thandi Modise has told parliament South Africans coughed up almost R139m to feed President Cyril Ramaphosa and his entourage aboard his presidential jet Inkwazi in the past five years.

Modise revealed the staggering catering bill in a written reply published by parliament this week.

But when TimesLIVE asked Modise's office for a breakdown of the costs the office backtracked on the figures she submitted to parliament. Modise's spokesperson Amos Phago told TimesLIVE the numbers referred to the total operational costs of the jet.

Phago said the summary submitted to parliament included associated costs such as fuel, flight clearance and flyover fees, parking, airport handling fees, accommodation for crew, stopovers and refuelling.

DA leader John Steenhuisen asked Modise for a breakdown of catering costs for every flight of Inkwazi over the past three financial years and since April 2023.

Steenhuisen questioned Modise about a report published in City Press last November that said the costs of catering on board Inkwazi amounted to just under R600,000 for fewer than 18 VIP guests on a 12-hour flight from London to South Africa after Queen Elizabeth's funeral in 2022.

Modise explained the flight to London did not fly from South Africa. The trip was part of a presidential flight from South Africa to Washington DC in the US, via Las Palmas, for Ramaphosa to attend a working visit to the US at President Joe Biden’s invitation, from September 15 to September 17 2022.

The flight left Washington on September 18, bound for London, for Ramaphosa to attend the funeral. After the funeral, the aircraft left London for South Africa on September 19, she said.

Modise said the catering costs covered all legs flown by the aircraft.

“It should be noted that the air force is invoiced and billed for all onboard catering and requirements for all legs flown by the aircraft and are covered by the catering price.

“Furthermore, the London leg was scheduled on short notice, which contributed to price increases. External flight destinations charge all catering in foreign currency, which influences the pricing.

“It must be stated that the SAAF gets billed for catering even if the destination changes,” said Modise.

Modise said there were 13 VIPs on board and eight crew members. These included Ramaphosa, his spokesperson Vincent Magwenya, his parliamentary counsellor Gerhard Koornhof and medical practitioners.

Modise’s reply showed R33.7m was spent in the 2018/2019 financial year, R42.4m in 2019/2020, R5.1m in 2020/2021, R7.8m in 2021/2022, R30.7m in 2022/23 and R19m so far in the current financial year.

She did not say how many flights the jet took in the period under review.

Steenhuisen said: “It is frankly outrageous that these huge sums are being spent on meals for the president and his elite cronies in the air while our children are literally starving on the ground below.

“If anything, it shows how little the president and his government care. It's wanton abuse of luxury perks and privileges while citizens are struggling to survive. The president should be ashamed that so much money is being spent on his comfort while his government has caused so much daily suffering for the people of our country.”

Steenhuisen said under a DA administration the jet would be sold and the country's leaders would fly commercially, as do the leaders of other countries at the same economic level as South Africa.

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