President Jacob Zuma prefers to spend his weekends at his Nkandla residence when he is not out of the country on national business. When the president travels anywhere, he does so safely with an expansive entourage of security personnel. President Zuma also has the South African Air Force at his disposal and he keeps them quite busy during most weekends.On the surface, it is all good and well that the president of the republic travels safely and comfortably.
The problem arises when the president’s travel expenses outweigh one of the main objectives of a national air force; sea and mountain rescue. This year, two helicopter squadrons of the SAAF were only provided with funding for presidential and other VIP flights. There were insufficient funds to allocate for sea and mountain rescue operations. To put it simply, if a disaster happened somewhere along the coast, there is no money for the helicopters to be used in a rescue operation.
The 15 Squadron in Durban was allocated 300 flight hours for VIP flights and a much lesser amount for training purposes. When the president goes to Nkandla, the presidential jet makes the trip to King Shaka International Airport in Durban. From there, two Oryx helicopters whisk the president off to his compound in Nkandla. According to media reports, it costs about R 36 000 for the helicopter flights.
The pilots in these squadrons are trained and skilled in sea and mountain rescue but they no longer have the opportunity to put those much-needed skills to use. These days, their main responsibility is transporting the president between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and his home in Nkandla.
The spokesperson for the presidency, Mac Maharaj said that the air force sees to the presidential travel and transport requirements and that the president has no influence on the matter. The South African National Defense Force insists that this is an operational matter and as such, it should not be discussed publicly.