Charter company asks: Why did Manto fly so much?

2008-12-19 00:00

Following Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s “plane crash” ordeal on Thursday, concerns have been raised regarding her many flights over two days.

The owner of the aviation company hired for Tshabalala-Msimang’s trips told Weekend Witness that the minister was scheduled to arrive in Maseru that day from Mafikeng, return to Mafikeng that night and then jet back to Lesotho the next day — stopping at Lanseria airport during all three trips.

“We thought that her travelling arrangements were unusual … it looked a bit excessive,” said Richard Maier.

“Our aeroplane was scheduled to stay overnight in Mafikeng and then leave for Maseru the next day … I could imagine that these trips may have cost around R80 000.”

Tshabalala-Msimang’s spokeswoman, Charity Bhengu, however, said there was nothing excessive about the trips.

“The minister was on official business in both Mafikeng and Lesotho,” she said. “These flights were not for her personal use.”

Bhengu said Tshabalala-Msimang had to attend functions simultaneously over the period — a youth indaba in Mafikeng and an African Union (AU) conference in Lesotho.

“As a minister of the President’s office, it is very important for her to attend these events,” she said.

“Her portfolio deals with issues surrounding the youth [and] women … and these events deal with matters that are relevant to them.”

A spokesman for the Presidency, Thabo Mafebe, said that because of the incident, the minister was not able to make it to the AU conference in which she was to play a major role in talks about women’s empowerment.

He added that the use of a charter plane was necessary because she would not have been able to attend both conferences otherwise.

Maier is disturbed by media reports of the incident.

“They have blown it out of proportion … We landed the plane — it did not crash,” he said.

“One publication reported that the minister ‘barely made it out alive’ … This is not true. She left the plane unharmed, without a scratch … and alive,” he added.

Mafebe agreed with Maier. He said he felt that the media blew the situation out of proportion.

“The pilot did an excellent job and he was able to land the plane safely,” he said. “When the minister says that she was scared, even if she was briefed about the emergency landing, it is only because she is human.”

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