On Thursday, President Jacob Zuma finally spoke out against the abuse of his name “to flout procedures and secure privileges” in order to land the Gupta jet at the Waterkloof Air Force Base. It’s a little late but kudos to him for finally breaking his silence on the issue. However the statement is weak and is hardly likely to stop the name-droppers in their tracks. If Zuma really wanted to deal with the issue decisively and presidentially, the opportunity presented itself on Wednesday during the parliamentary debate on Guptagate. Here is the speech he should’ve delivered. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
My fellow South Africans,
I am pleased to have this opportunity to finally address you on this matter of national importance. Since 30 April, when the Jet Airways Airbus A330-200 carrying wedding guests from India landed at Air Force Base Waterkloof, this matter has weighed heavily on me because of the blatant contravention of security at our defence facility. As President and Commander in Chief, it disturbed me deeply that a military air base, which is meant to maintain the highest levels of security to protect the sovereignty of our country, was breached by a foreign civilian aircraft through the circumvention of regular procedures.
I, however, thought it best to wait for the completion of the directors-general report commissioned by the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster to establish the basic facts before speaking on the issue. Although the report was hastily compiled and does not answer all the pertinent questions as to how the severe security breach occurred at Air Force Base Waterkloof or the how State personnel came to be involved in the transport of private individuals to Sun City, it provides us with base information to pursue this matter further.
From the report, we have learnt that all these arrangements were made by on the request of members of the Gupta family for a wedding. There have been numerous questions raised by the incident and the investigation report that require me to provide answers to the august House and the nation, which I take the opportunity to do now. While I would ordinarily not explain the nature of my private relationships, this has become necessary in light of the fact that my relationship with the Gupta family inadvertently led to a serious breach of security, abuse of state facilities and personnel, and embarrassment to our country.
Mr Speaker, honourable members, I became acquainted with the Gupta brothers several years ago, before becoming State President, when they asked to meet me at my then residence in Foresttown, Johannesburg. From then on, a close friendship developed between Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta and myself, and as a result, others in my family circle became acquainted with them. While members of my family are involved in business with the Gupta family, I have no financial relationship with the Gupta brothers or their companies (we are assuming the best-case scenario for the purpose of this article) and our friendship is based on (again we don’t know so we can only guess some possible options) our mutual affection/love of Indian food/Bollywood movies/T20 cricket/piña coladas and getting caught in the rain (And we’re into champagne)/playing Monopoly – with actual buildings/stick fighting.
I am aware that members of the Gupta family have also established relationships with members of the Cabinet, independent of their relationship with me. Over the years there have been concerns expressed, including in the intelligence agencies and in my organisation, the ANC, about the conduct of the family and their exploitation of our relationship to further their business and other interests. As these were my friends, for whom I had developed a deep affection, I did not want to believe that they would manipulate officials in the State in my name. I also overlooked reports from Cabinet Ministers and directors-general about their untoward behaviour, including issuing instructions purporting to have come from me.
However, as a result of the incident at Air Force Base Waterkloof on 30 April, there is now irrefutable evidence that my friends, the Guptas, took the liberty of using a state facility through manipulating government officials and diplomatic channels. The investigation report has established that my name – through the pseudonym “Number 1” – as well as those of members of my Cabinet were used to make the jet landing and transportation arrangements possible.
I find this unacceptable and take deep offence at the use of my name and those of members of the executive to infringe and circumvent the laws and regulations of our State. I would like to make it clear, here today, in this Honourable House, that businesspeople, including my friends the Guptas, State officials, comrades in the ANC or even members of my family must not use my name to further their personal or business interests.
I preside over a Constitutional State with clear channels of communication. Unless instructions come through official channels within the State or through the Director-General of the Presidency, nobody should use my name to effect actions in any tier of government or State Owned Enterprise. This practice of name-dropping undermines our efforts towards clean and good governance and compromises my authority. I will not tolerate such abuse of my name and order anyone who may be doing so to cease this offensive practice immediately.
I urge members of the Cabinet to also ensure that their names and portfolios are not being abused by anyone. We must all work to preserve the integrity of this government, and name and shame anyone who is found to be persisting with this practice. I appeal to anybody who has information of any such abuse and name-dropping to report this immediately to my office. I assure you that these reports will be investigated and appropriate action taken against all those involved.
That being said, I do wish to acknowledge that the State officials who were found by the investigation to have facilitated the landing and transport arrangements, did so because they were led to believe that they were acting on my instruction. I now know that this is due to the widely held impression that the Gupta family should be afforded special privileges because of their relationship with me.
These officials deserve fair disciplinary hearings to explain their positions and how they came to be involved. I do not wish to pronounce on the outcome of these hearings but take the opportunity of this parliamentary debate to make it clear that no officials should be made scapegoats. The ultimate responsibility for what has happened rests with the executive. As President, I take full responsibility for the actions of my government and I will make sure that corrective measures are in place to ensure that the integrity of the State is never again compromised.
Mr Speaker, honourable members, the Waterkloof incident has been an embarrassment to our government and detracted from the important work of the State. The people of our country need our undivided attention to deal with the many challenges our nation faces. As we have witnessed in the past week following my visit to Eldorado Park, once we pay attention to the cries of our people and commit ourselves to dealing with their problems, South Africa can be the great nation we all want it to be.
I ask you, honourable members, on both sides of the House, to work with me to confront our challenges and lift our nation up. Let us work to stop incompetence, corruption, poor performance, abuse and exploitation wherever it is, and whomever it may involve.
I thank you. DM
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