The Zimbabwe China Friendship trip that saw 27 "shopping" legislators stranded in China for almost a week was apparently meant to give travel exposure to MPs who had never travelled outside the country.
According to Makoni South MP Mandi Chimene (Zanu PF), the trip was not a government trip. She organised it for the sole reason to expose parliamentarians who had approached her saying they had never travelled and would struggle if they were to be sent out on Parliament business.
Chimene said she organised the trip with the Zimbabwe China Friendship Association where she is deputy chairperson. The outfit once organised another trip for civil servants.
"I extended the programme to my colleagues at Parliament. Initially, I wanted those who had never flown out of Zimbabwe, but could not bar those who wanted. I then negotiated for cheaper tickets with Sontin and Skycred who funded the tickets for which the legislators would pay in six months' time through a stop order facility," Chimene said.
But problems, Chimene said, started when they arrived in China and Zaka Central MP Paradza Chakona started mobilising other legislators to "rebel" against Chimene's advice not to travel to Guangdong, a faraway province South of China.
"Chakona told the MPs that he was their new leader and he knew the place. He collected money for train fares from the MPs and they left for Guangdong, telling me and an Embassy official off saying we were wasting their time. They never communicated since then. He even refused to give me the list of MPs who were travelling with him," she said.
"When they came back, a few minutes before take-off (back to Zimbabwe), we told them to go to Boarding Gate Three, but they refused and proceeded to Gate Two, saying we were misleading them since Hon Jaboon was already at Gate 2. I heard from rumours that Chakona was saying the plane would not leave them because they were many. I even tried to plead with the staff at the airport to give them a few minutes but my pleas failed. I also almost missed the flight while negotiating."
Chakona could not be reached for comment yesterday as his mobile phone was unreachable.
On Friday Harare Metropolitan Senator Rorana Muchihwa (MDC-T) said the legislators had used tickets for the disabled persons for the flight back home.
Muchihwa berated Chimene accusing her of dumping them in China and misleading them into using the wrong gate which resulted in them missing their flight.
Another MP who was part of the group that came earlier, but refused to be named, poured scorn at his colleagues who missed the flight saying: "Most of them were travelling by plane for the first time and they thought airplanes operated like buses that can wait for passengers. They leant it the hard way. They refused to take advice from Chimene and an embassy official identified as Chimimba," said the MP.
Harare West MP Jessie Majome admitted that Chimene had indeed mentioned that the trip was meant to expose the parliamentarians who had no travelling experience.
"I did hear her saying the motivation for organising the trip was to expose MPs to travel. I assume she must have been referring to the MPs she knows," she said.
Majome said she was however unhappy about the snide remarks from some quarters that the bulk of those stranded were women.
"It's not very nice to suggest that only women think of shopping," she said.