Bruce Koloane, former chief of state protocol, at the state capture inquiry in Parktown, Johannesburg, on July 3 2019. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI/THE SUNDAY TIMES
Bruce Koloane, former chief of state protocol, at the state capture inquiry in Parktown, Johannesburg, on July 3 2019. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI/THE SUNDAY TIMES

Former head of state protocol Bruce Koloane has denied any wrongdoing in the landing of a privately chartered airplane by the Gupta family at the Waterkloof air force base in 2013.

Koloane, who was suspended from the position and later appointed SA’s ambassador to the Netherlands by former president Jacob Zuma, described to the state capture inquiry on Monday his version of events leading up to the controversial landing.

The Gupta family flew in about 80 guests to a lavish family wedding at Sun City. The landing at the air force base has been credited with bringing to greater public attention the alleged influence of the family on the Zuma administration. 

Koloane has been at the centre of allegations set out by various witnesses before the commission over the past two weeks. They alleged that Koloane put pressure on them to approve the landing without proper processes being followed.

His involvement is also among the findings of an investigating team of security cluster officials who were put in charge of probing the controversial landing at the time. The investigating team comprised Zuma allies Thulani Dlomo from the State Security Agency and Tom Moyane, who was the national commissioner of correctional services at the time.

The team exonerated Zuma despite an alleged reference to him by Koloane in recordings. This led to speculation that Koloane was the “fall guy” for the incident.

Koloane told the commission on Monday that he was told a ministerial delegation from India was arriving in SA and had requested permission to land at the air force base.

“I came to know about the request for the landing when former Indian high commissioner Virendra Gupta called me and informed me they had applied for a flight clearance for landing at Waterkloof, and it had been six days and they have not received a response. He told me it was for a ministerial delegation,” he said.

"The first thing I did was to call my PA (personal assistant). I said to her that I just got a call from [Virendra Gupta] who was complaining.” He said he asked his PA if she could follow-up with the relevant official who dealt with these issues. 

“I was under the assumption that the Indian high commission had submitted all the documents [to the department of international relations and co-operation]."

It is believed that the former Indian high commissioner does not share any relation with the controversial state capture-implicated Gupta family, even though they share the same surname.

Koloane said his assistant told him that the department did not know about a submission by the Indian high commission. When he called the high commission, it said the submission was sent to the department of defence. 

“I then asked to be given the number and the name of who they sent it to so I could then call,” Koloane told the commission.

He said he was put in touch with command centre flight post officer Thabo Ntshisi. Ntshisi told the commission last week that Koloane pressured him to allow the flight to land.

“I had no sight of any documentation. I said to him [Ntshisi], ‘please can you help because the [high commission] is on my case. Can you please process this application.’ I was out of my office ... I think he [Ntshisi] was already aware of the application, that’s the impression I got,” Koloane said.

“All I remember saying [was that] if there is an issue with the application, revert back to the [high commission].”

The commission previously saw evidence in the form of an e-mail from Koloane’s personal assistant sent to various senior officials. In the e-mail, Koloane is said to have approved the landing.

“I take note of the e-mail my PA sent, which was either a misunderstanding on her side or my failure to explain it properly to her … because the e-mail she then sent approves the landing of the flight ... which I don’t have the authority to do. I had no legal mandate whatsoever to dictate to any government department,” Koloane said.

umrawa@businesslive.co.za