High, mighty - and very angry


The incident on an international flight in which Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang allegedly swore at a passenger is but the latest in a string of "air-rage" incidents involving high-profile government personalities.

Deputy Minerals and Energy Minister Susan Shabangu was charged with public indecency earlier this year after she allegedly lifted her dress in exasperation after being forced to repeatedly pass through a metal detector at Johannesburg International Airport.

Last year, Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi allegedly made a bomb threat to a security officer at the same airport, a serious criminal offence.

An enraged Tshabalala-Msimang reportedly accosted Cape Town businessman Jans von Wichtingen in the business class section of a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt last week after he objected to sitting beside her because she was responsible for the "deaths of thousands of people with HIV/Aids".

Von Wichtingen charged that the embattled health minister twice told him to "f... off" after he voiced his objections to being seated next to her.

The latest furore has led opposition parties to renew their call for Tshabalala-Msimang to be fired, but the government has dismissed any such possibility, with Essop Pahad - Minister in the Presidency - defending the health minister against people who "do not respect black ministers".

"South Africa's political leaders deserve more respect," Pahad said this week.

But Tshabalala-Msimang appeared to be merely following the example of Shabangu and Selebi, both of whom seemingly took exception to being put through the paces of metal detection at the country's busiest airport.

An airport security official, Benny Edwards, laid charges of public indecency and crimen injuria against deputy minister Susan Shabangu after an incident on March 6 this year.

Shabangu was apparently on her way to board a flight when she passed through a checkpoint and set off a metal detector. Edwards, who was on duty, requested her to remove metallic objects from her person and pass through the detector again.

Shabangu went through the detector repeatedly, setting off the alarm time after time. An altercation ensued, and Shabangu lifted her dress in "exasperation" to show him that she was not hiding anything underneath the garment, Rapport newspaper reported.

She was eventually allowed to proceed to her flight, but Edwards laid charges at the airport police station.

On August 11 last year, Selebi allegedly "made a bomb threat" to a senior security official, who brought the incident to the attention of his superiors, according to the Mail&Guardian newspaper.

Passing through international departures on his way to Europe, Selebi allegedly told the official that there was a bomb in his bag after placing it on the X-ray machine's conveyor belt.

The police chief, who vehemently denied the allegations, was reportedly allowed to go by the security manager, unlike civilians who have been arrested on the spot in similar incidents.

The maximum sentence for making a bomb threat at an airport is 25 years.

At the time, Selebi's spokesperson Sally de Beer was quoted as saying: "It is absolutely outrageous. Outright lies.

"He didn't even have a bag in his hand when he went to the airport," De Beer said.


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