By Kenneth Matimaire
PRESIDENT Emerson Mnangagwa’s helicopter was forced to return to Harare after failing to land in Mutare due to thick fog which led to security personnel raise fears it could crash in the mountainous boarder city Saturday, NewZimbabwe.com can reveal.
Mnangagwa was scheduled to officially open an oxygen production plant.
The oxygen plant was established by Verify Engineering (VE) located at Feruka Oil Refinery in the eastern border town of Mutare with the aid of Indian engineers and the Harare Institute of Technology (HIT).
VE – an amalgamation of the country’s security services – is government’s research and development unit under the ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology.
Its oxygen plant is expected to play a major role to fight Covid-19 pandemic amid high demand.
During Covid-19 healthcare, oxygen, which is pumped into the body by a ventilator, has become an integral component to resuscitate severe Covid-19 patients.
Security sources who were privy to Mnangagwa’s travelling arrangements said he could not safely land due to bad weather experienced on Saturday and had to cancel the event.
“Initially the official opening was set for Friday (August 13) before it was rescheduled for Saturday under unclear circumstances. But what is clear is that the event could not take place again today (Saturday) because of unfavourable weather experienced,” said the security source.
Mnangagwa is reportedly now using the Airforce of Zimbabwe (AFZ) latest acquisition of an Airbus H215 helicopter that replaced the aged Cougar helicopter that was used by the president to fly around the country.
Mutare experienced cloudy and completely obscured sky with light showers, which made it difficult for safe air travel.
“The event has been postponed to Thursday (August 19),” said the security source.
The development comes at a time Zimbabwe currently imports the bulk of its oxygen from South Africa where demand is also growing owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The plant is essential as it will ensure that there are adequate supplies of, inter alia, medical oxygen, which is used for first aid resuscitation in emergences, during anaesthesia, life support and oxygen therapy.
Verify, which was formed in 2005, installed an Air Separation Unit (ASU) with capacity to produces 50 tonnes of oxygen per day but managed 30 tonnes per day in 2017.
Apart from oxygen, the ASU also produced 16,5 tonnes of liquid fuel, 2,5 tonnes of liquid nitrogen per day including an acetylene plant that produced 2,5 tonnes of gas per day during the same year.
Verify chief executive officer Pedzi Tapfumaneyi then, projected that the firm had potential to meet 65 percent of the country’s demand of products under production by 2019 if funding was readily available.
However, Tapfumaneyi lamented that the wholly State-owned project was underfunded by government.
“A 50 tonnes per day ASU plant was bought from India. Works for this site (ASU) was abandoned in 2008 when it was directly funded by RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe) at that time. The 65,000 litres per day plant could have been too big for our principals which was US$42 million and we downsized it to 5,000 litres per day plant, which now costs US$10 million,” he said the, adding that the commercial fuel plant is earmarked to produce 8 million litres of fuel per day.
It could not be established at what capacity of production Verify had managed to reach at present.
Mnangagwa’s earmarked visit comes after former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko toured the company in 2015.
Former Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education Professor Jonathan Moyo and RBZ governor John Mangudya among other high profile government officials also toured the plant in April 2017.