Jacob Zuma is in talks to buy a £165m presidential jet, it was reported, just days after the South African president warned of growing frustration among the country’s poorest over the government’s failure to improve their
The customised Boeing 777 plane seats 300 people and would cost $150m to buy and an additional $80m to be adapted to Mr Zuma’s specifications.
The Department of Defence, which oversees VIP transport, is reportedly considering spending an additional $28m on a second private plane for Kgalema Motlanthe, the deputy president.
Defence Secretary Sam Makhudu Guluybe was on Friday visiting the United States to finalise the sale with Boeing, according to the Johannesburg Star newspaper.
The newspaper said it had documents which showed the defence department had negotiated a significant reduction on the jet’s original price of $305m after a deal between Boeing and another buyer fell through.
The current presidential jet, known as Inkwazi which means “fish eagle” in Mr Zuma’s mother tongue Zulu, was out of service for much of last year for upgrades and maintenance.
The government is also facing a multi-million dollar legal bill after cancelling a five-year lease for another plane from Nigeria. Defence officials have refused to comment on the reported deal, or explain why new planes might be needed for the president and his deputy.
Opposition politicians have lambasted the apparent move, revealed at a time when the ANC is holding a five-year policy conference to discuss how to alleviate poverty in South Africa, which sees about 40 per cent of the population live on less than $49 (£31) a month.
David Maynier, the defence and military veterans spokesman for the opposition Democratic Alliance party, questioned why Mr Zuma could not use the state airline, into which the Treasury has also pumped billions of rands. “If British Prime Minister David Cameron can use British Airways to fly, then Zuma can fly South African Airways,” he said.
“It is simply wrong to spend R2 billion on a presidential jet when so many people in the country are poor. I believe a presidential jet should only be used in exceptional circumstances.”