Jonathan and Nicky Oppenheimer at Parliament. Picture: Chantall Presence / ANA

Parliament - The Oppenheimer family on Tuesday fiercely defended their operation of a private terminal at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg at a meeting with MPs fraught with tension and disruption. 

The briefing to Parliament's home affairs portfolio committee was at one stage disrupted by members of Black First Land First (BLF), one of whom manhandled Nicky Oppenheimer, one of South Africa's richest men.

BLF leader Andile Mngxitama was forcefully removed by parliamentary security personnel after he started shouting "shut down Fireblade", referring to Fireblade Aviation, the Oppenheimer family's company that runs the private terminal for VIP and VVIP passengers

"This family is a criminal family. You are allowing them to lie to you. Nicky and his father went to the ANC (African National Congress). They captured the ANC," shouted Mngxitama.

BLF members had earlier taken up seats between MPs and near the Oppenheimers. One man went right up to Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer, pointing his finger at them and manhandling them before members of the parliamentary security team stepped in and forcefully ejected him and others, including Mngxitama.

Following the chaos, the meeting continued with both Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer denying the private terminal was operated exclusively for the family.

"Since inception, including domestic and international operations, we have had some 13 884 movements, the vast majority of those have been domestic movements and the family itself has been responsible for five percent of those movements, so by no means an exclusive use for the family," said Jonathan Oppenheimer.

Outlining what led to the court case which saw Fireblade challenge Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba's about-turn on what appears to be a 2016 decision by the minister to approve the operation of a private customs and immigration service at the terminal, Nicky Oppenheimer said the legal battle was a "last resort".

He said he and his son decided to "invest in a world-class gateway into South Africa" and began with plans to set up the R150 million facility.

Fireblade Aviation then negotiated with Denel to lease its space at OR Tambo and had received some 27 approvals from various government departments and entities.

Oppenheimer said he met with Gigaba in January 2016 in Pretoria and the minister's final approval for the customs and immigration service to be provided at the terminal was granted.

"Following this meeting, home affairs failed to act on the approval granted by the minister and it soon became clear there was no intention of honouring this [agreement]."

This led to the legal challenge which saw a high court siding with Fireblade Aviation and even accusing Gigaba of lying under oath for saying he did not grant approval.

Gigaba's appeal was also dismissed. It is understood the minister now intends approaching the Constitutional Court.

African News Agency (ANA)