President Jacob Zuma has tacitly defended the landing of the Gupta chartered jet by bizarrely insisting that the Waterkloof Air Force Base is not a national key point.

Zuma told the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) - the party’s highest decision-making body between conferences - that the air force base was a strategic entry point.

The jet, carrying over 200 guests attending the wedding of the niece of the politically connected Guptas at Sun City, sparked a national rumpus with some accusing the family of abusing state resources.

Five sources - including four NEC members - confirmed that the president made the technical distinction during his political report yesterday at the meeting held in Irene, Tshwane.

The sources cannot be named due to rules governing ANC communications that forbid the releasing or leaking of NEC discussions.

However, they differed regarding the context and interpretation of his statement.

One source said the president underestimated the anger of South Africans over him being indirectly implicated in the “brouhaha” through his friendship with the Guptas, and was now resorting to academic definitions.

“He doesn’t understand the brouhaha. He thinks it’s lack of information and miscommunication that needs to be corrected. Shocking,” one NEC member said.

Another senior ANC member who is not part of the NEC said Zuma’s lack of “appreciation of public anger was his weakness”.

“How can he think the national air force base is not a national key point but his home (in Nkandla) is a national key point?” asked a member who was briefed about what the president said.

He was referring to Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi’s defence of the multi-million rand security upgrade at the president’s house.

Nxesi said in January: “The Nkandla residence of President Zuma, like the residences of former presidents and former deputy presidents, have been declared a national key point in terms of the National Key Points Act. Therefore any information relating to security measures undertaken at a national key point is protected from disclosure in terms of this act.”

However, the other two NEC members were sympathetic to the president, saying he was merely lashing out at his colleagues for their failure to explain to the nation the “truth about Waterkloof”.

“The president was merely chastising those with information about the categories of these kinds of facilities. He said they sat for days without telling the nation that Waterkloof was not a national key point.

“He said the country was in the dark… and emotions were up while we knew the facts about Waterkloof and kept quiet. It was a criticism against all of us regarding communication to the nation,” said an NEC member, who added that the air force base was also used for civilian air shows.

Another NEC member said the president’s definition of the air force base’s security status would be explained in detail today as part of the report following investigations by justice security cluster directors-general, appointed to investigate the matter.

The third NEC member was only prepared to confirm that Zuma didn’t refer to Waterkloof Air Force Base as a national key point.

Ironically, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe referred to the air force base as a national key point nearly three weeks ago.

In an angry statement condemning the landing of the Gupta jet, Mantashe said: “The ANC has learnt that guests of a family hosting some wedding at Sun City landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base today. Waterkloof is one of our country’s national key points. A national key point is declared on the basis of being ‘so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation may prejudice the Republic’. National key points are further designated as such on the understanding that the safeguarding of their sanctity is integral to the protection and upholding of the safety and sovereignty of the Republic”.

Mantashe continued: “The African National Congress, driven by the concern for the safety and sovereignty of South Africa, shall never allow a situation where our ports of entry and national key points are penetrated with impunity.”

Mantashe could not be reached for comment by last night and ANC spokesman Keith Khoza declined to comment on “NEC discussions”, saying the directors-general would explain “the whole thing” today.

A national key point - which is regulated by the National Key Points Act - restricts access to the facilities so categorised, whereas access to strategic entry points are not necessarily restricted but controlled.

However, the Waterkloof Air Force Base is not an ordinary port of entry but a highly controlled military facility.

On Wednesday, MPs will debate the controversial landing of the Gupta jet and call for the release of the full investigation report.

The focus has fallen on Chief of State Protocol Ambassador Bruce Koloane, who was the first to be put on special leave two days after the April 30 landing of wedding guests.

Koloane was at the air force base at the time.

He has consistently declined to comment publicly.

While the Tshwane Metro Police suspended 11 of its officials last week, it is understood the SANDF has proceeded with boards of inquiry against three officers, including the office commanding of Waterkloof Air Force Base.

Initially it was said an approach was made directly to the defence minister, who had rejected it, but then it emerged that the Indian High Commission defence attache directly approached the military’s foreign relations section.

An SA National Defence Force documents indicated that the initial approaches were made as far back as February, on the basis that there would be five state ministers from India.

The Gupta family has maintained it received all necessary approvals, and the Indian High Commission maintained permissions had been obtained three weeks before the landing.

Meanwhile, the Ward 117 ANC branch, which incorporates Saxonwold and Parkview in Joburg, received a formal complaint about branch-member Atul Gupta, one of the Gupta brothers.

Yesterday branch chairman Sipho Sithole said he had received the complaint but that disciplinary proceedings into Gupta had not begun.

“We’ve confirmed that a complaint was made by a branch member, but there has been no discussion by the branch on the matter,” Sithole said.

He said the branch executive committee had met to discuss the issue of the complaint against Gupta, and that an investigation to look at the merits of the complaint had been launched.

“Most members grovel around him. I sometimes would think they are in meetings because of him,” said a Ward 117 member, speaking on condition of anonymity, about Gupta.

Gupta’s spokesman Gary Naidoo could not be reached for comment. - Sunday Independent