Bruce Koloane, the former chief of state protocol and now SA's ambassador to the Netherlands, testifies at the state capture inquiry on Tuesday. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI/SUNDAY TIMES
Bruce Koloane, the former chief of state protocol and now SA's ambassador to the Netherlands, testifies at the state capture inquiry on Tuesday. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI/SUNDAY TIMES

He has been widely dubbed as former president Jacob Zuma’s “fall guy” over the 2013 Waterkloof Air Force Base landing, and Bruce Koloane lived up to that billing on Tuesday.  

Appearing for the second time at the commission of inquiry into state capture on Tuesday, Koloane assumed most of the blame for facilitating the landing of the Gupta family’s wedding guests at the restricted Waterkloof military base.

In April 2013, a private plane carrying about 200 guests to the wedding of Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia was allowed to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base, and blue light brigades whisked the guests off to Sun City. Several ministers and political figures attended the wedding.

Koloane’s admission flew in the face of his testimony just a day earlier, when he denied any wrongdoing over the saga.

On Tuesday, even when the commission confronted him with telephone recordings in which he tells senior officials at the defence & military veterans department that Zuma, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and then transport minister Ben Martins all knew of and approved the landing, Koloane maintained that he lied to them to increase pressure for the flight to be cleared.

I abused the power of my office by calling officials who are processing and exerted pressure on them.
Bruce Koloane

He also admitted to abusing diplomatic channels to facilitate the landing, misrepresenting facts to senior officials at the defence department and compromising normal processes and procedures.

Koloane, who was head of state protocol at the time, was suspended soon after the Jet Airways plane landed at Waterkloof. But on pleading guilty to three charges set out by an international relations & co-operation department disciplinary committee, he received a lucrative post as SA’s ambassador to the Netherlands from Zuma. 

“I pleaded administrative negligence because the impression that had been created was that there had not been any application and I was informed by the Indian high commissioner [Virendra Gupta] that he had applied, and since I indicated yesterday [Monday] that they had actually followed the similar process when they were hosting their head of state, I was of the assumption that all was done properly and by the book. I did agree that I erred in that,” Koloane said.

In recorded conversations which the commission played between Koloane and senior defence officials, including command centre flight post officer Thabo Ntshisi, he is heard saying that Martins and Mapisa-Nqakula were aware of the flight.

Reference was also made to “Number One”, understood to be Zuma, on whose instructions Koloane said he was acting.

“I indicated that at no stage did the minister of transport, defence or the president ... in any way communicate with me either by themselves or through anyone in their offices. I abused the power of my office by calling officials who are processing and exerted pressure on them. But at no stage did I have control of diplomatic channels.”

He admitted to using the names of those ministers and Zuma in pressuring defence employees to clear the flight, and maintained they had no knowledge of the flight and that he was not acting on their instructions.

“I agree that it was wrong of me to use their names ... it potentially can taint the reputation and the image of the three that you have just mentioned. There was nothing in it for me,” he said.

I agree that it was wrong of me to use their names ... it potentially can taint the reputation and the image of the three that you have just mentioned.
Bruce Koloane

But his version of events was vastly different from his testimony when he first appeared on Monday, when he said he merely asked for officials to expedite the Indian high commission’s application to land at Waterkloof.

Describing the lead-up to the landing, Koloane said on Monday that he instructed Ntshisi to process the flight application with the understanding that the Indian high commission had submitted all the required documentation. This time round, he said he pressured Ntshisi because he felt the need to appease the commission.