Johannesburg - Two of South Africa’s top military generals have described the landing of a chartered aircraft with more than 200 Gupta wedding guests aboard at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in April 2013 as a national security breach.
Retired Lieutenant-General Derrick Mgwebi, now the Department of Military Veterans acting director-general, told the commission of inquiry into state capture, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that his board of inquiry into the embarrassing incident found that security had been breached and the national key point compromised.
According to the former SANDF chief of joint operations, after the Jet Airways Airbus had landed, the Gupta wedding guests, who were civilians, took pictures while waiting for civilian vehicles which came on to the base and were able to drive around.
He said that due to Waterkloof Air Force Base being a strategic military facility, civilians were not allowed to take pictures without proper authorisation.
Mgwebi presided over the board of inquiry investigating the Gupta plane landing after it was convened by SANDF chief General Solly Shoke soon after the incident.
Among its aims, Mgwebi said, was to find out whether there had been authority and clearance for the aircraft to land at Waterkloof, the individuals who might have violated prescripts and weaknesses in the system to be rectified.
Strangely, he continued, during the board’s probe it was established that CCTV cameras were not working, hence the Gupta guests’ movements were not monitored on the ground.
“The relevant areas we were interested in were not in the system,” said Mgwebi, adding that his team was informed that CCTV cameras were being serviced and there was no back-up system.
Mgwebi said Major Thabo Ntshisi, who was a sergeant-major at the time and at the command post during the landing, had had no business discussing SANDF issues with a civilian, former chief of state protocol ambassador Bruce Koloane.
He said Ntshisi and Koloane had also discussed his employment outside the SANDF during their interactions.
Mgwebi also established that there had been no ministers scheduled to land with the Gupta plane and that Koloane had been fed misinformation.
“(On the part of the) captain from the Indian embassy (former Indian high commission defence attaché Captain Shaji Kutty) there was (deception) and misinformation,” he said.
SA Air Force (SAAF) chief Lieutenant-General Zakes Msimang also told the commission that he had been approached by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s political adviser, Michael Ramagoma, informing him of the request for permission for the Indian delegation to land at Waterkloof in March 2013.
Ramagoma, according to Msimang, wanted to determine whether the landing of a civilian aircraft at Waterkloof was allowed but was told it would be irregular for a plane full of Indian wedding guests to land there.
Msimang, who was six months into his tenure, felt the matter should not be entertained any further. “It was the time thing such a thing had happened,” he said, adding that there were protocols in the SANDF and the SAAF. “We have standard operating procedures that determine the type of aircraft, delegations that can be allowed at Waterkloof. The fact that it was a wedding party, it did not comply,” he said.
Msimang explained that at that time the SANDF was on high alert following the deaths of 13 of its members in the Central African Republic in March 2013. There was also an accident in which the SAAF had lost a helicopter, he said.
“This was totally unacceptable and hurt me personally. I never imagined it would happen and (it) hurt the image of the SANDF and of the country.” Koloane and the country’s ambassador to the UN, Jerry Matjila, formerly Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s director-general, will testify next week.