By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
22 May 2014
Transport minister Obert Mpofu has put himself in the spotlight after he claimed that a South African helicopter which crashed in the Gwanda area a fortnight ago may have been involved in smuggling.
Officials are claiming that the unauthorized chopper flew into Zimbabwe undetected and crashed at Doddieburn Farm near West Nicholson on May 5th and was immediately buried. Another unauthorized chopper flew in to take away the surviving pilot and his wife.
But questions have been raised as to how a security conscious state like Zimbabwe could not have been aware of the aircraft’s presence within its borders.
Amid this whirlpool of suspicions, Mpofu threw himself into the spotlight saying the South African chopper is suspected to have been involved in the smuggling of either ivory or minerals. Doddieburn Farm is said to be a sprawling conservancy owned by the Gwanda Town Council and leased by Lawrence Botha.
Mpofu further revealed that the same plane had previously flown into the country many times without the knowledge of the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe. (CAAZ), which is under his ministry. The South African media has suggested that Mpofu himself knows more than he has revealed.
However the media has reportedly been barred from covering the excavation of the chopper’s wreckage while the police have said it is a ‘national security issue’. The police, the CIO and the army are all at the farm.
One journalist told SW Radio Africa that the area has been cordoned off and the road to the farm is littered with soldiers. He said: ‘The atmosphere is tense and you get the sense that you could disappear if you try to drive to the farm.’ Former Gwanda Mayor, Lionel De Necker said the incident was ‘shrouded in both mystery and secrecy.’
Despite the reported secrecy, the chopper crash has set tongues wagging with suspicions that the ill-fated aircraft may have been part of the chefs’ underhand dealings.
But it is Mpofu’s situation that could be more relevant. Not only did his ministry fail to discover the alleged violation of the country’s airspace, which he admits to, but he is also a former minister of mines during whose tenure allegations of diamond smuggling flew thick and fast.
Moreover, Mpofu once said ‘it is difficult to stop smuggling’ and SW Radio Africa reported in February that an estimated $50m worth of gold is smuggled out of the country every month.
The South African aircraft was the second to crash in the same district after another chopper mysteriously came down in rural Gwanda in January, killing Beitbridge businessman Christian Malila Ndou. Reports said Ndou had flown into the country from South Africa alone and was on his way back when he crashed.
Two people were arrested and charged with stealing R500, 000 from the scene of the crash but were later freed by a magistrate for lack of evidence. Again questions were asked as to how the state had determined the amount which Ndou was said to have been carrying when he crashed.