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Sisulu livid over plane fiasco

South Africa’s Secretary of Defence, Mpumi Mpofu, along with the SA Air Force Chief, Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano, have resigned with immediate effect over the crisis around the air force’s VIP transport aircraft.

The resignations, with Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu refusing to accept Gagiano’s letter, are over the debacle around the VIP aircraft.

Lt. General Carlo Gagiano. Photo: Etienne Creux. Credit: INLSA

Last month Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was forced to abandon a leg of a diplomatic trip to Europe when a VIP plane, chartered by the air force, experienced technical difficulties on take-off from Air Force Base Waterkloof.

Earlier this year, a VIP aircraft Motlanthe was travelling in had to perform an emergency landing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while on a recent trip to New Zealand the plane he was travelling in again experienced technical and mechanical problems.

The resignation letters of both Mpofu and Gagiano were handed in days after the Waterkloof fiasco.

Sisulu, according to sources close to her office, finally lost her patience with the latest incident and Mpofu being unable to provide her with “satisfactory answers for the debacles”.

It is believed that Sisulu summoned Mpofu, wife of former SABC chief executive, Dali Mpofu, to her office demanding an explanation as to why the air force could not transport President Jacob Zuma or Motlanthe with its own aircraft.

She also wanted to know why the SAAF was having to charter planes at exorbitant prices.

A government official on Thursday night said a serious bone of contention for the minister was the fact that the cabinet approved the procurement of two new VIP aircraft nearly nine months ago and had made a budget available, “yet there is no sight of these planes”.

“The minister is demanding answers… as to why the country is being embarrassed… why the defence force proclaims to be the biggest and the best in Africa, yet it cannot fly its president around and answers as to why the safety of the president and deputy president is being put in danger,” said the source.

While the minister had accepted Mpofu’s resignation she was refusing to accept the resignation of “an officer and a gentleman”, the source said.

“In simple terms she has said under no circumstances will she accept the resignation of such an officer.

“She is determined to protect his integrity under all circumstances.

“She is not holding Gagiano, who took the blame as the chief of the air force, responsible for the debacle at all,” said the source.

Sisulu’s spokesman, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, confirmed that the resignation letters of both Mpofu and Gagiano had been received.

“Mpofu’s resignation has been accepted with immediate effect and she has been replaced by the chief financial officer, Mziwonke Dlabantu, who is now the acting secretary of defence.

“When it comes to Gagiano and his resignation, she has not accepted his letter even though as the head of the air force he stated that he would accept full responsibility for what has happened in terms of the SAAF’s VIP aircraft and the transportation of the president and deputy president.

“The minister has insisted on sitting down with Gagiano to get to the bottom of the matter, the challenges facing the air force and possible solutions to these challenges.

“They are engaging each other and there is hope that a solution to the matter will be found soon, especially as the minister feels strongly about Gagiano’s leadership abilities and his willingness to take responsibility,” he said.

The South African National Defence Union head Pikkie Greeff said as the union, they expected the minister of defence to resign as well, “as the buck in this debacle ultimately stops with her”.

“When it comes to Mpofu, we are not going to miss her because she has done absolutely nothing for the defence force or its members. We are glad that Sisulu has not accepted Gagiano’s resignation,” said Greeff.

Neither Gagiano nor Mpofu were available for comment on Thursday night. - Pretoria News

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