South Africa

DAYS OF ZONDO, PART FIVE

Commission finds Bruce Koloane ‘key figure’ in facilitating Gupta Waterkloof landing

The Gupta’s Jet Airways Airbus at Waterkloof Airforce Base in Pretoria in 2013. (Photo by Gallo Images/ Sunday Times / Waldo Sweigers)

The touchdown of a Jet Airways chartered flight with 200 Gupta wedding guests at Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013 laid bare the ‘scandalous influence’ that the Guptas exercised in the highest office in the country. In Part Five of the commission’s report into State Capture, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo names former Chief of State Protocol, Bruce Koloane as the ‘key figure’ responsible for facilitating the aircraft’s landing, and further notes the extreme unlikelihood that former president Jacob Zuma was not in the loop on the plans of his pals the Guptas.

In light of the evidence surveyed in the final Part Five Zondo report, the Commission has found it “difficult to accept” former President Jacob Zuma’s previous claims before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, “namely that he did not know about the Waterkloof landing before it had happened.”

The report’s chapter on Waterkloof concludes that the “probabilities are overwhelming” that Zuma knew about plans for a private Gupta aircraft to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base in April 2013, and that he had no objections to them being followed through — despite his claim to the contrary in his appearance before the Commission in July 2019. 

“In fact, all indications are that [Zuma] would have taken steps to have the landing of the private aircraft facilitated. If that is what the Guptas wanted from him, how could he not do it for them when the evidence has shown that he could even fire his own comrades if that was what the Guptas wanted,” reads the report. 

Given how the Guptas flaunted their friendship with the former president — it is “extremely unlikely” that they would not have informed him about their plans and tried to secure his support for their implementation, the report continues. 

The landing of the commercial aircraft at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria on 30 April 2013, laden with about 200 Gupta family guests who were travelling from India to South Africa to attend the wedding of Aakash Jahajgarhia and Vega Gupta at Sun City, exposed the extent to which the Zuma-led government was willing to bend the rules to fulfil the Guptas’ wishes. 

There was no head of state or foreign dignitary on board, and the use of a South African National Key Point — Waterkloof Air Force Base — for the landing of the Jet Airways flight JAI 9900 quickly snowballed into a public scandal

 

The Zondo report identified former Chief of State Protocol, Bruce Koloane, “as the key figure in facilitating the unauthorised flight carrying Gupta wedding guests”, along with a Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson who had aided in misrepresenting the facts to facilitate the landing.

During his appearance before the commission, Koloane’s evidence was in places “incoherent, and in several respects contradictory”, reads the report. Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis previously reported that Koloane’s first testimony to the commission in July 2019 was “riddled with contradictions”. 

However, on his second day of testifying before the State Capture Inquiry, Koloane admitted that, in his role as chief of state protocol, he had abused his powers in office to facilitate the Gupta Waterkloof landing. 

He also admitted to “name-dropping” that of former president Jacob Zuma, former transport minister Ben Martins or defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to pressure officials to expedite the process of the flight clearance request, according to the report.

“When we asked why he had resorted to untruthfully mentioning certain people’s names, he responded that there was ‘nothing in it’ for him personally,” said the report.

It was clear that “Koloane was guilty of abuse of diplomatic channels”, said Zondo, adding that he was disciplined with a two-month suspension only to subsequently be rewarded with an ample promotion by Zuma to an ambassadorial position.

Koloane’s admission of abusing diplomatic channels did not appear to have been a factor that should have been taken into account in his “incomprehensible promotion” to the position of South African Ambassador to the Netherlands, not long after the Waterkloof fiasco, according to the report.

“The fact that he had gone to undue length to facilitate the landing of a plane carrying passengers who had no official status or office at a military base and to accord a special status to the Gupta family and their wedding guests does not appear to have negatively affected his prospects of being appointed — as it should have.” 

“This is highly regrettable,” the report said.

Following his appearance before the Commission, Koloane resigned as Ambassador in September 2019, after being recalled by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation over his testimony, News24 previously reported.

In addition, Zondo said that it was “probable” that Koloane acted on the instructions of or at the request of former president Zuma when facilitating the Guptas’ landing. “This is said notwithstanding his subsequent denial that President Zuma has asked him to facilitate the landing,” he added.

South Africa paid the greatest price for the costly four-day wedding celebration — which the #Guptaleaks emails found was paid for with at least R30-million of laundered Free State government funds that were supposed to go to the Estina dairy farm project in Vrede. Apart from the financial implications, the embarrassment Koloane bestowed upon the country proved to be the most damaging, said the report. 

“The foregoing notwithstanding, the evidence does not justify a finding that Koloane, or any official whom he had pressured, acted as a result of the ‘capture’ of any officer or institution of the State. At worst, his conduct and the lapses in procedure by the officials at the base, brought embarrassment to the government and to the country,” reads the report.

“Be that as it may, what the positive purpose that Waterkloof saga, for which he was responsible, has served for the country was to starkly demonstrate to the media and the wider public the scandalous influence that the Guptas exercised in the highest office in the Republic and how they shamelessly flaunted it.”

“It is hoped that an incident like the Waterkloof landing will never happen again in this country,” the chapter concludes. DM

 

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