HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the first lady flew to the United States separately with bloated delegations, even as the government calls for belt tightening by Zimbabweans.
Auxillia Mnangagwa – travelling in advance – took four journalists and six aides with her on commercial flights, despite her husband chartering a private jet from Switzerland.
The US$30,000-per-hour Swiss luxury jet flew Mnangagwa to the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday, but his wife was already in the nearby state of New Jersey shopping and holding private meetings for her charity.
The first lady, who has a permanent state-media team seconded to her, is travelling with a cameraman and reporter from the ZBC as well as a photographer and reporter from The Herald.
Mnangagwa, meanwhile, flew out with a half-empty plane after dozens of aides were also put on commercial airlines for unclear reasons. He has media crews from Zimpapers, the ZBC, New Ziana and Central Intelligence Organisation publication, The Patriot, shadowing him.
The cheapest ticket for a return flight to New York from Harare was US$1,260 on Sunday.
Sources told ZimLive Mnangagwa’s 63-seater Boeing 767 BBJ chartered from Swiss aviation firm, Comlux, was only half full.
Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya flew into New York from Kampala, Uganda, with his own entourage.
Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, sources said, has a team of at least five people from his ministry who also flew commercial, at a huge expense to the taxpayer.
In all, Mnangagwa’s delegation, which includes Health Minister Obadiah Moyo despite doctors being on strike since September 3, is estimated to be between 75 and 90 people.
Each member of the delegation, including journalists, gets an allowance of US$1,000 which rises significantly for directors and ministers. With Mnangagwa only set to fly back on September 26, each member of the team would have cost the taxpayer at least US$7,000.
The cost of hiring the jet for the trip is in excess of US$1.5 million.
Mnangagwa, unlike his wife, is banned from travelling to the United States over human rights abuses, but he is allowed travel to the UN headquarters on official business. He will be restricted to within a radius of 40km (25 miles) from the UN.
Doctors are on strike in Zimbabwe demanding better pay as galloping inflation has decimated salaries. Zimbabweans are also battling runaway prices and shortages of fuel, electricity, food and medicines.
Mnangagwa’s government, which came to power on the back of a military coup in November 2017 before claiming a controversial election victory in August last year, has called for patience after introducing an austerity programme of keeping public sector wages depressed and curtailing recruitment.
Anger is however building across Zimbabwe, with the government forced to use the police to ban protests. Finance minister Ncube, who described the belt tightening measures as “austerity for posterity” has had the slogan thrown back at him by Zimbabweans who say it is in fact “austerity for their prosperity”, a protest over uncapped expenditure by the government on conferences, foreign lobbyists, private jets and foreign travel.