Lack of communication led to Gupta landing, says Air Force chief
No checks and balances were in place to verify where information came from, general tells inquiry
Air Force chief Lt-Gen Fabian Msimang said the Gupta family being allowed to land a privately chartered airplane at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013 was a symptom of a lack of co-ordination and communication between various government departments.
Testifying at the state capture inquiry on Thursday, Msimang said there were no checks and balances in place at the time to verify where information being fed to the Air Force had come from.
The controversial landing at the base of about 80 guests the Guptas flew in to attend a family wedding at Sun City in April 2013 sparked outrage and has been credited with bringing to greater public attention the alleged influence of the family on the administration of former president Jacob Zuma.
A team of security cluster officials comprising Zuma allies Thulani Dlomo from the State Security Agency and Tom Moyane, who was the national commissioner of correctional services at the time. were put in charge of probing the incident. The team exonerated Zuma, despite an alleged reference to him by former chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane in recordings at the time of landing. This led to speculation that Koloane was the “fall guy” for the incident.
Msimang told the commission that in March 2013 he was approached by defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula's then political adviser, Michael Ramagoma.
“This took place during a time when the SA National Defence Force was on high alert. We had a situation in the Central African Republic whereby we lost 13 of our members ... At the same time, we also had an incident whereby we had lost a helicopter. I would also like to state that the landing of the aircraft happened within six months of my having taken office,” he said.
“During the latter half of March 2013 [Ramagoma] approached me to determine the regulations informing the landing and taking off of a civilian aircraft at Waterkloof. I informed [him] that it would be irregular for an aircraft carrying Indian wedding guests to land at the base.
“I advised [him] that the matter should not be entertained any further. From my point of view I thought that was the end of it.”
He said there were no checks and balances to verify the authenticity of the request to allow the Gupta family to land the plane.
"That is now the problem we are faced with here. It is due to the nature of the request in general ... This incident for me is a symptom of an absence of a co-ordinated interdepartmental arrangement to co-ordinate and coherently deal with the RSA05 [diplomatic requests],” he said.
“In this space, arrangements are hinged on trust and integrity. Initially, when I tried to categorise the type of requests that come in, the environment from where that information is activated, the right information has to come through, otherwise it contaminates the whole process. There are no checks and balances from the point where that information comes into the defence force.”