Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore was on hand to welcome a Boeing 767 which arrived Wednesday at Harare’s international airport recently named after the former president.

Chikore, wearing captain epaulettes, although there is no record of him having been promoted to this rank, was first named last year as one of the negotiators for the purchase of several second-hand aircraft from Air Malaysia.

He has refused to take calls since last year, and again on Monday this week, although his assistant in his Harare office confirmed he was “around”.

There is considerable mystery about the purchase of this aircraft as bankrupt Air Zimbabwe is still operating although it only has two aircraft.

Zimbabwe Airways is allegedly owned by a company known as Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company (ZALC) but the registrar of companies in Harare said this week that the file with the details was not available for “security” reasons.

However, information emerging via various well-placed sources about ZALC is that two of its directors are connected with, or related to senior government and aviation officials in Harare.

Chikore was trained as a pilot for Air Zimbabwe and then moved to Qatar Airways and was a first officer but failed tests to qualify as a captain, and left the airline and returned to Harare and later married Bona Mugabe, the former president’s oldest child.

Airline officials say the elderly former Malaysian plane – another one is due to arrive shortly – will not be able to be maintained in Harare as there is neither equipment nor qualified engineering staff.

As far as can be established there are also no qualified Zimbabwean airline staff, including pilots, registered to fly this aircraft.

One experienced pilot who has previously flown routes ex-Harare and is now in South Africa, and asked not to be named, said: “They are not suitable for Air Zimbabwe’s present routes nor customers. It will never be allowed to land at Gatwick Airport because that route belongs to Air Zimbabwe which is banned from flying in Europe. The UK link was previously Air Zimbabwe’s most profitable route.”

Zimbabwe is desperately short of foreign currency but as far as can be ascertained the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe allowed more then US$43m to be transferred to troubled Air Malaysia for the purpose of purchasing aircraft.

In recent years Air Malaysia lost two aircraft and all passengers on board – one which disappeared mid flight and another which was shot down over Ukraine.

Reuters reports that Zimbabwean finance minister Patrick Chinamasa confirmed that the aircraft were bought with the intention of leasing them to a local airline until national carrier Air Zimbabwe returned to profitability.

So far neither Zimbabwe’s civil aviation authority nor the ministry of transport have explained the circumstances surrounding the purchase nor the connection, if any, with the Mugabe family.

Bona and Simba Chikore are presently building a mansion on top of a hill in northern Harare, near their parents palatial home, on land originally owned by the government which had planned to build a school there.

There is no explanation how either of them could afford to acquire that land and then build a palatial home in the side of a hill which needed massive excavations.

Chikore was controversially made head of operations at Air Zimbabwe after he married Bona, even though he had neither the qualifications nor experience for the job, according to airline insiders.

He quit after his father-in-law was ousted from power last November.

by Peta Thornycroft