NOTHING TO SEE
Ministerial show of force — ‘We can account for every visitor accompanying the UAE President’
A whole panel of ministers and MECs gathered on Friday afternoon to ensure the country that there is nothing suspicious about the visit of the United Arab Emirates Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan and his entourage to the Eastern Cape.
“The department can account for every one of the visitors accompanying the President (of the UAE),” the Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni insisted on Friday as she headed up a press conference on the controversial visit to the Eastern Cape by United Arab Emirates Ruler of Abu Dhabi His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan.
Ntshavheni was joined by the Minister of Home Affairs Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Agriculture Thoko Didiza, Minister of Police Gen Bheki Cele, the Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga, Minister of Defence Thandi Modise, Acting Premier of the Eastern Cape Xolile Nqatha who is also the MEC for Transport in the Province, and Cassius Sinthumule, Head of Air Modalities in the South African Revenue Service, with responsibility for airports.
Ntshavheni said there has been a “range of insinuation” that suggested that something improper unfolded in the Eastern Cape’s preparation for this visit “by a prestigious guest to our country.”
The Eastern Cape Government admitted previously that the UAE had donated R20-million to them to paint and renovate the Bhisho/Bulembu airport near Qonce (formerly King Williamstown) for this visit and even provide the facility with a generator in case of rolling blackouts.
“South Africans are right to be vigilant about such matters but our vigilance should not make us jump to the worst assumptions and conclusions about our country or this administration,” Ntshavheni said.
She said the visit was preceded by formal diplomatic correspondence from the UAE Government to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
“This formal correspondence sets out the intention of the President of the UAE to visit South Africa in his private capacity, and indicated that he would be accompanied by a large entourage and that the President would be domiciled at a game reserve the President owns in the Eastern Cape.
“This correspondence reflects the respect shown and care taken by the President of the UAE in informing South Africa of the planned visit and allowing us to make the necessary arrangements in good time.
“The formal correspondence on the visit set in motion South Africa’s preparation to extend to the President and his entourage courtesies and services in line with the internationally practised hosting provisions that countries offer Heads of State or Government and other dignitaries on a mutual basis.
“Part of the preparation for the President’s visit to the Eastern Cape was the issuing by the Department of Home Affairs of visas to members of the entourage who needed visas to enter South Africa. Other members of the entourage carried passports from countries with whom South Africa has visa-free travel agreements.”
Ntshavheni continued, “It is common for Heads of State and Government to visit South Africa privately, including for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment.
“With such visits, the governments concerned will formally draw the attention of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to the planned visits. This advance notice allows departments and agencies of government to prepare for the delivery of their obligations.
“These obligations include a range of services and responsibilities, including the security of a Head of State.
“When such private visits take place, there is no requirement for public announcements about these occasions. Very often, Heads of State undertake such visits to enjoy privacy away from their public roles and profiles of high visibility.”
Ntshavheni said exemptions and approvals were obtained from the South African Civil Aviation Authority for the landing at Bulembu/Bhisho Airport near Qonce (formerly King Williamstown) in the Eastern Cape.
“We also granted landing permits based on the fact that the airport was compliant for that operation, having considered requisite approval by the Department of Home Affairs. The Department of Transport, therefore, is therefore satisfied that our laws have been followed to the letter in granting the necessary exemptions and approvals,” Ntshavheni added.
She said Motsoaledi declared the airport as a temporary port of entry.
“Upon the arrival of the entourage, immigration services were rendered and all the visitors, including His Highness, were in possession of the requisite visas. Some of the visitors only produced valid passports as they came from countries from which visas are not required.”
She added that members of the South African Police Service, SARS and customs were on duty when the Sheikh and his entourage landed.
Ntshaveni added that presidential protectors were deployed for the Sheikh’s security. “This is the case with all such visits.”
“Even though this visit is private, we have taken this step of sharing details with the nation because of the unfortunate and uninformed speculation we have seen around this visit, which sought to foment suspicion about the visiting President and his entourage and about South Africa’s management of this occasion.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Generator included — how Eastern Cape government fixed up dilapidated airport for UAE royals
“South Africa welcomes the personal visit to the Eastern Cape by the President of the United Arab Emirates, whose interest in and enjoyment of our country is an important endorsement of our country’s attractiveness as a destination and partner for investment, trade, and tourism.
“Given the United Arab Emirates’ outstanding performance as a global investment and tourism [destination] in its own right, South Africa and the Eastern Cape stand to gain from continuous engagement with the UAE which is also a source of outbound investment around the world.
“The hosting of the UAE President has conformed to international diplomatic standards and is fully compliant with South African laws,” she added.
Motsoaledi said not all visitors that accompanied the Sheikh needed visas as Saudi Arabia, amongst other countries, are exempt from needed visas.
He said visitors from 32 different countries accompanied the Sheikh and including the United States, Europe, and Canada.
Motsoaledi added that the Sheikh’s plane did not land anywhere else.
“We were informed that because of logistics he wanted to land in the Eastern Cape.”
Cele said designated firearms officials did stop the import of some hunting rifles and ammunition into the country.
Sinthumule said the goods brought in by the Sheikh were declared and this was an ongoing process. “No currency was found,” he added.
On Tuesday the Democratic Alliance submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) to the Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, requesting that he provides the party with a record of the decision that informed his government’s plan to lease a portion of the government-owned Bulembu Airport in Bhisho to the President of the UAE and his family. Bizarrely, according to this plan, it is suggested that the UAE royals will share the airport with the military and the police’s airwing unit.
The DA’s Angel Khanyile also said that Motsoaledi must provide proof that his decision to temporarily designate the Bulembu/Bhisho airport as a port of entry was published in the Government Gazette. DM/MC