If the Bruce Koloane who appeared before the Zondo Commission on Monday was largely defensive, the Koloane who took the hot seat on Tuesday was in a more contrite mood.
On Monday, the former Chief of State Protocol had told the commission that he could not recall having invoked the names of former president Jacob Zuma, former transport minister Ben Martins or defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in an attempt to speed up approval for the Guptas to use the Waterkloof air base in 2013.
But having read the testimony of former Zondo witnesses, and having listened to audio recordings procured by the Zondo Commission – of telephone calls between Koloane and military officials before the Waterkloof landing in 2013 – Koloane’s memory was “refreshed”.
Koloane may indeed, he admitted, have told military officials that Zuma, Martins and Mapisa-Nqakula were in favour of the Gupta family being granted permission to use Waterkloof.
He stressed to the commission, however, that these claims were a lie. Or to put it in Koloane’s words: “That was fundamentally nothing but name-dropping”.
Said Koloane: “Neither the minister of defence, the minister of transport nor the president communicated with me in any way that I should deal with this matter.”
His purpose in claiming that Zuma and the ministers were breathing down his neck, explained Koloane, was “to try and exact pressure on officials”.
And it was wrong, Koloane said. It was an “error of judgement”.
But the confession seemed to raise more questions than it answered.
For one thing, asked Advocate Thandi Norman, how was it possible that on Monday Koloane did not remember having engaged in said “name-dropping”, but by Tuesday “the commission must accept you made a mistake and now you recall you name-dropped”?
Guilt, shame and trauma had briefly erased the memory, Koloane claimed.
“There are some [memories] that you want to forget and close the chapter on and never ever get back to them in your life,” he said.
Koloane explained that he, his wife and children had undergone therapy to try to move past this period in their lives.
“So I think maybe it’s just the refusal of the memory bank to deal with some of these realities because they do not bring anything but unnecessary pain.”
But Justice Ray Zondo had another question.
If Koloane was really under no pressure at all from Zuma and former Cabinet members to ensure that the Waterkloof landing happened, why was he so determined to push it through? Why would he not tell the Indian High Commissioner, who was asking Koloane for updates, that he simply had no control over the processes involved?
“There was nothing in it for me at all,” Koloane – the current South African ambassador to the Netherlands – said.
He was simply trying to do his job in “servicing bilateral diplomatic relations” with India.
Koloane added that because he had a personal working relationship with the Indian High Commissioner, he had “an interest to appease him” and also hoped to be viewed as “a man who can get things to happen”.
His only relationship with the Guptas, Koloane testified, was as a result of the fact that they were often Zuma’s guests at official functions, such as the State of the Nation Address.
“My job is to make sure I take care of all the guests of the president,” Koloane said.
He further told the commission that although he received an invitation to the Gupta wedding at Sun City, he did not attend.
On Tuesday morning, the audio recordings of telephonic conversations relevant to the Waterkloof clearing were also played for the commission.
In one, Koloane is heard phoning Major Thabo Ntshisi from the department of defence to “follow up on the flight clearance request by the Indians”.
When Ntshisi tells Koloane that Waterkloof can ordinarily only be used to accommodate flights bearing “heads of states or deputies”, Koloane reassures him that “about four or five [Indian] ministers” will be on board.
“Normally I would not necessarily make any request,” Koloane says, “but you know this is a unique case.”
He goes on to say that he cannot provide Ntshisi with all the detail in writing – “as you know, for all the other reasons”.
Quizzed by Justice Zondo on the meaning of “all the other reasons”, Koloane said that he was reluctant to put things in writing because he did not want to repeat his false claims about executive pressure in a more formal format.
In another recorded phone call played for the commission, Waterkloof’s former second-in-command Colonel Christine Anderson is heard discussing the matter with Ntshisi.
Ntshisi asks Anderson: “Are [the Gupta guests] allowed to land there or not?”
“Yes my dear, they are,” Anderson replies without hesitation.
She goes on to explain: “Let me say something to you, in confidentiality, [Koloane has] now just mentioned this… I must be very careful… our Number One knows about this.”
“Yes, he explained that to me, ma’am,” Ntshisi responds.
With Koloane due to return to his diplomatic post in the Netherlands, he was released from his testimony – but not before Justice Zondo expressed continuing bemusement about why the official had not previously sought to clarify the issue of Zuma’s alleged involvement in the Waterkloof landing, if this was merely a fabrication on Koloane’s part.
Koloane replied that he had no faith in the media, which he claimed had falsely alleged a close relationship between himself and the Guptas.
“I do not believe in playing to the public gallery,” Koloane said – while adding that he might write long overdue letters of apology to the members of the executive he had wrongfully implicated in the Waterkloof saga. DM
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