Johannesburg - A South African Army officer on Wednesday told the commission of inquiry probing state capture that he had been opposed to the Guptas landing a chartered flight at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in April 2013.
Major Thabo Ntshisi, who was at the command post as sergeant-major at the time, said he was initially against the landing of the chartered Jet Airways plane but agreed to process the request after former chief of state protocol Vusi Bruce Koloane sent an email telling him to proceed.
According to Ntshisi, he also discussed the matter with Lieutenant-Colonel Christine Anderson, who was the movement control officer at Waterkloof, and who told him he “must be very careful now, our Number 1 knows about this. It is political. Allow them”.
“Number 1” is a reference to former president Jacob Zuma.
“I’ll phone the ambassador (Koloane) to find out who is the senior minister,” Ntshisi recalled Anderson telling him after he refused Koloane’s request.
Koloane is now South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands.
He said his understanding was that only the president, deputy president and any other person sent by the president on official duty as well as military aircraft could land at the national keypoint in Tshwane.
Commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asked the commission to investigate the matter further: “What will need to be investigated is the issue of the transcript, the accuracy of the transcript, so that we know what the position is”.
When Justice Zondo asked Ntshisi why he changed his mind, he said it was due to an email written by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation’s (Dirco’s) senior foreign affairs assistant William Matjila from Koloane, which was not the required note verbale.
He said the discussions with Anderson, Koloane and the email were key to him changing his mind.
“No one pushed me to process the request,” Ntshisi insisted.
He said while he did not have the powers to grant the request, he only processed it after taking it to his boss at the time, Lieutenant-Colonel SJ van Zyl. “Once you’ve spoken to your senior you can’t not comply with the request. I did not have the power to stop a senior Dirco official,” Ntshisi said.
He disputed journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s claims in his 2017 book, The Republic of Gupta: A Story of State Capture, in which he wrote that he (Ntshisi) had benefited from his role in the landing by being promoted from the rank of warrant officer to major.
“I have not read the book. It’s all lies,” he said. Ntshisi also disputed the transcript of the board of inquiry into Anderson’s role in the landing at Waterkloof Air Force base, saying he did not agree with its wording and that it did not represent what he told the inquiry telephonically.
The commission also heard the evidence of former justice and constitutional development department director-general Nonkululeko Sindane, who was part of the task team appointed to investigate the landing.
The team included former acting State Security Agency director- general Dennis Dlomo, then correctional services national commissioner Tom Moyane and former acting co-ordinator of intelligence in the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee Dr Clinton Swemmer.
Sindane said Koloane abused Zuma’s name and that of Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and former transport minister Ben Martins.
“People use ministers’ and directors-generals’ names a lot,” she said.
Matjila, SA Air Force chief Lieutenant-General Zakes Msimang and acting military veterans director-general Lieutenant-General Derrick Mgwebi will testify on Thursday.