Grace Mugabe is given a R5m luxury airlift by Emmerson Mnangagwa

Expensive jet flies her home from Singapore for mother's funeral

09 September 2018 - 00:04
By JAMES THOMPSON
Zimbabwe’s former first lady Grace Mugabe travelled to Harare in luxury to attend her mother's funeral.
Image: Trong Khiem Nguyen/Flickr via The Conversation Zimbabwe’s former first lady Grace Mugabe travelled to Harare in luxury to attend her mother's funeral.

An expensive flight in a long-range luxury business jet has helped to heal the rift between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the Mugabe family.

Mnangagwa chartered a brand-new $15,000-an-hour Gulfstream to fly Grace Mugabe home from Singapore after the death on August 30 of her mother, Idah Marufu.

Described as "one of the most coveted aircraft among the global travelling elite", the plane can travel up to speeds of 956km/h.

The former first lady told mourners at her 83-year-old mother's wake this week: "I have never boarded such a plane. The crew told me that I was the first person to board it. It is my dream plane. I felt comforted."

Mnangagwa's gesture, estimated to have cost at least $330,000 (R5m), appears to have convinced former president Robert Mugabe that Mnangagwa was the right man to succeed him.

The former ruler told mourners at Marufu's wake: "There was an election. Zanu-PF was represented by Emmerson Mnangagwa and the person who won was Mr Mnangagwa.

"We have accepted the result and we hope that we will continue respecting the will of the people. The gun does not, and should not, lead politics."

Mugabe said that he was grateful that Mnangagwa, 75, had hired the jet to fly his wife home.

Mnangagwa loves us. He knows we love him too. We pray for him because it's God's will that he is president
Grace Mugabe

Grace added: "Mnangagwa loves us. He knows we love him too. We pray for him because it's God's will that he is president. We pray that he be given the wisdom to lead the country."

Jealousy Mawarire, a spokesman for the Grace-backed National Patriotic Front, tweeted thanks to Mnangagwa. "I want 2 thank Pres @edmnangagwa & his presidium 4 facilitating the travel of former First Lady Dr Mugabe back home for the funeral of Ambuya Marufu," he said.

"Such a gesture is very invaluable & much appreciated. May the Lord keep u, lift up His countenance upon u & give u peace."

A senior Zanu-PF official said: "The president decided to spare the former first lady the inconvenience of scheduled flights at this difficult time, so a chartered plane was arranged so she could return home as quickly as possible."

The warm words were a far cry from the campaign Grace led within Zanu-PF against Mnangagwa, who fled to Mozambique after he was sacked as vice-president last October. His firing followed months of humiliation by Grace, often as he sat in the front row at rallies.

He was taken to hospital in South Africa after he was allegedly poisoned at a rally he attended with the Mugabes. In June, an explosion at a rally addressed by Mnangagwa killed two aides and injured two ministers.

Six weeks ago, on the eve of the first election since Mnangagwa ousted him in November, Mugabe said he would vote for Nelson Chamisa, the presidential candidate of the opposition MDC Alliance, adding that he had not trusted Mnangagwa since they began their political relationship 50 years before.

The following day, Mugabe's 10-strong security detail was reduced to two.

The Gulfstream is one of five operated by Qatar Executive.
Image: Supplied The Gulfstream is one of five operated by Qatar Executive.

In January, Mnangagwa visited Morgan Tsvangirai, six weeks before the opposition leader died of colon cancer, winning praise from Chamisa.

A spokesperson for Tsvangirai said: "This is the new politics we want to see, the politics of peace, the politics of working together, the politics of feeling for one another. This is the direction and we hope it is the kind of talk that will be walked and talk that will be sustained."

But political analyst and law lecturer Alex Magaisa told the Sunday Times there were divided opinions on Mnangagwa extending olive branches to his enemies when they were in need.

"Twice, ED [Mnangagwa] has shown generosity to a rival, first to Morgan Tsvangirai and second to Grace Mugabe," he said.

"Both were in moments of great difficulty. MT [Tsvangirai] was in poor health and Grace had lost her mother. Some find it humane and charming. Others read the acts of a calculating schemer," said Magaisa.

The Gulfstream 650ER chartered for Grace Mugabe's flight is one of five in a fleet operated by Qatar Executive, the charter arm of Qatar Airways. The company says it is "one of the most coveted aircraft among the global travelling elite. With phenomenal range capabilities and industry-leading cabin technology, it offers unparalleled comfort."

If the twin-engined Gulfstream had flown all the way at its maximum speed of 956km/h, it would have taken about 8½ hours to complete the flight to Harare from Singapore, where Grace had gone for a medical checkup. Commercial flights take between 15 and 38 hours, including connections.

The plane's flights, from Doha and back home after dropping Grace, would have totalled 20,000km and involved at least 21 hours of flying time. - Additional reporting by The Daily Telegraph, London