On Friday the South African government announced arrests and the suspension of several officials and police officials for their role in the landing of a civilian aircraft chartered by the influential Gupta family at the Waterkloof air force base. By KHADIJA PATEL.
The headquarters of government communication in Pretoria saw an unprecedented show of force by the Zuma administration in the face of a huge outcry over the abuse of state facilities by the politically connected Gupta family. The justice, crime prevention and security cluster of government ministers, among whom are Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe, Minister of Correctional Services Joel Sibusiso Ndebele, Minister of International Relations and Co-Operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor all appeared before the media to reveal how far government has progressed in their assessment of the breach of security at the Waterkloof air base. Also present were the commissioners of the South African National Police Service (SAPS) and the South African Revenue Services (SARS).
The sheer number of officials present – and their expressed candour – was extra-ordinary. By Friday morning we knew that one official from the Department of International Relations and Co-Operation (Dirco), the head of protocol Ambassador Bruce Kholwane, had been suspended for his role in facilitating the request from the Indian High Commission for the plane to land at the Waterkloof air base. We would soon be informed that a further four individuals had been suspended.
Radebe said a further four individuals were placed on “compulsory special leave” while an investigation in the matter is conducted. The group includes a brigadier general from the South African Air Force (SAAF) command post; a major from the SAPS operational response unit from the movement control office; and brigadier general from the SAAF commanding base.
Nkoana-Mashabane said the speedy action that had been taken – where action was taken against those involved within 24 hours of the plane landing in Pretoria – proved that government did indeed have structures in place to address issues of maladministration and dereliction of duty.
Radebe also announced that a team of various directors general from the departments involved would reveal the outcome of their investigation in a week’s time.
“Our government would like to assure all South Africans and the public at large that no stone will be left unturned. We will ensure that we get to the bottom of this matter and hold all those responsible for bringing our country to disrepute, whatever their position,” he said.
The attentiveness government has shown to the saga however indicates that government too has been shocked by the flagrant abuse of the state that served the convenience of a politically connected family.
As Daily Maverick’s Ranjeni Munusamy notes, “In the state too, all sorts of investigations began, admissions were forthcoming and dramatic action taken in record time – never before witnessed in the Zuma administration.”
With this newly-found energy, it is clear that government will not back down from its previously stated positions of displeasure of the entire saga. Radebe said, “Government is gravely concerned at this violation of the security protocol and total disregard of established practice for clearing the landing of aircraft in a military facility that is of strategic importance to the country.”
Radebe also noted that the defence attaché of the Indian High Commission bypassed the Dirco and sent a request for aircraft clearance directly to the Air Force Command Unit within the SANDF on April 4.
“The SA Air Force consulted with the Office of State Protocol at [the department] and facilitated the clearance of the aircraft without informing the Chief of the SANDF,” he said.
So while this saga has raised uncomfortable questions about the procedures in place to prevent the abuse of state assets and resources by those with political connections, it has also placed South Africa’s diplomatic relations with India in quite a quandary.
“Government has no record of a note… from the Indian High Commission notifying the department of international relations and co-operation of a visiting delegation requiring diplomatic assistance and aircraft clearance and landing rights,” Radebe said.
He also said government’s “particular concern” was that this aircraft was carrying passengers who did not all meet the criteria that validated the use of the Waterkloof air base.
And while, the ministers reiterated that the plane had landed without gaining the requisite permissions from the “executive”, what must now be investigated is what motivated these individuals, inside and outside of government – to act without official executive authority, if that really was the case. DM
Photo: Gupta wedding (Gupta familiy)
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