Malusi Gigaba. Picture: THE TIMES
Malusi Gigaba. Picture: THE TIMES

On Tuesday, the Oppenheimers insisted they obtained all the necessary approvals to operate a private terminal at OR Tambo International Airport and dismissed claims they had bribed senior government officials ahead of the deal being finalised.

The Oppenheimers were summoned to appear before parliament’s home affairs portfolio committee to explain how their firm, Fireblade Aviation, came to operate a private terminal at OR Tambo airport without an official agreement granting them permission to do so.

Their appearance before the parliamentary committee got off to a rowdy start when members of Black First Land First (BLF) — an organisation that describes itself as a black consciousness, pan-Africanist and revolutionary socialist political party — led by Andile Mngxitama attempted to manhandle billionaire business person Nicky Oppenheimer and his son, Jonathan.

"Shut down Fireblade … the Oppenheimers are a criminal family … they buy the ANC, now they want to buy this parliament," Mngxitama shouted.

The BLF then proceeded to lay charges of fraud, bribery and corruption against Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer, arguing that they had "illegally acquired an international airport terminal inside the OR Tambo International Airport".

Responding to questions from MPs, Nicky Oppenheimer said home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba had lied to parliament when he stated he had not approved the family’s private terminal in early 2016.

He said he took offence at insinuations that the family had paid a bribe to obtain the approvals. He said Gigaba had said at the time he was delighted to approve the terminal, but the family was "astounded" when he later changed his mind, denying he had ever approved it.

The matter eventually ended up in court, where a judge found Gigaba had lied. Gigaba lost his appeal to a full bench of the high court‚ as well as an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal‚ and has decided to take the matter to the Constitutional Court.

Fireblade director Manne Dipico, a former ANC MP and Northern Cape premier, said he was disappointed that his "comrade [Gigaba] had lied to the committee". He said Gigaba had "approved [the private terminal], finished and klaar… Maybe he needs assistance [remembering]," said Dipico.

Jonathan Oppenheimer said the terminal was not intended for the sole use of the family. "It was meant to be a gateway to SA … offering a high-quality, efficient service ... Since inception, including domestic and international operations, we have had [about 14,000] movements — the vast majority of those have been domestic movements and the family itself has been responsible for 5% of those movements, so [the terminal] is not for exclusive use by the family," he said.

Committee chair Hlomani Chauke expressed concern that there appeared to be no proper agreement for the operation of the private terminal.

He insisted that all documents regarding the approvals should be made available to the committee soon.