Zuma ‘won’t attend Gupta wedding’

2013-05-02 12:52

President Jacob Zuma won’t attend the Gupta wedding at Sun City, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane has confirmed.

Addressing the media during a briefing today on Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Chabane said both he and Zuma had been invited but neither would attend.

Afrikaans daily Beeld reported Zuma would have flown to Sun City this afternoon but the trip was cancelled because of the controversy around the Guptas’ use of Air Force Base Waterkloof.

Chabane also said VIP protection afforded to about 217 guests of the Gupta wedding that arrived at Waterkloof must be withdrawn if it is found that there were no foreign dignitaries among the guests.

Chabane, who described the controversy around the Guptas’ use of the military base as “unfortunate” and “serious”, said investigations by the SA National Defence Force and the SA Revenue Service would reveal exactly how permission was granted for private jets to land at Waterkloof.

“I’m not aware what are the reasons why the VIP escorts were provided but under normal circumstances, there would be processes applicable if an escort is provided for anybody. But if there were no dignitaries, that VIP escort service should be withdrawn,” said Chabane, adding that Cabinet did not discuss the matter.

Chabane said more information would be forthcoming once the investigations into the matter had been completed.

“Definitely action will be taken (against) anyone who might have played a critical role in this matter,” he said.

“A lot of people who got involved in this, I think, we’re quite innocent, they were not involved, except for the fact that they are part of the process (to grant permission and land at Waterkloof),” said Chabane.

He confirmed that the permission to use the airport had been rescinded, with the jets informed to leave the airport and use another as a base.

He said that the whole incident was viewed as a “security risk”, particularly because Waterkloof is a national key point.

Although the Gupta wedding spokesperson Haranath Ghosh had said that various dignitaries had been among the guests that arrived, Chabane said he was unsure whether there were any foreign government officials who could qualify as dignitaries and use facilities such as Waterkloof and VIP protection.

“As to whether the issue of the utilisation of the airport is a security risk there are certain procedures applied to use the airport. Once there is an indication that criteria is not followed, obviously from the National Key Points Act it will be a security risk,” said Chabane.

In a statement, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the Waterkloof air command post had received information from the state protocol section of the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) regarding an aircraft carrying state ministers from India and that “they should assist with clearance for them to land”.

She said this was the established protocol for requests to use Waterkloof for foreign dignitaries.

“Documentation from the Dirco indicated that they have agreed to the request from the Indian High Commission in this regard. The South African Air Force therefore dealt with the request as a normal process that has always applied when Dirco makes such a determination and direction,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

She also revealed that a “representative” from Sahara Computers, which is owned by the Guptas, approached her department “for assistance in approving a request that was to be sent by Indian high commissioner for the use of the Air Force base”.

“This request for assistance was rejected, and since it was not even formalised, the ministry considered the matter closed,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said they were not aware that the Guptas would find other means to get permission to land because the department had referred the Guptas to Airports Company SA.

“It had never been our expectation therefore that attempts would then be made to find other avenues to try and secure the use of the Air Force base through the diplomatic channel at the Dirco.

“The Office of the Chief of the State Protocol dealt with the request from the Indian high commissioner directly to the Air Force Base without consultation with the chief of South Africa National Defence Force, the chief of the Air Force and the ministry,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

She said her department would “never have approved such a request” and that a decision had been taken to remove the aircraft from Waterkloof, which means guests will have to leave from another airport.

Chief of State Protocol Bruce Koloane has been suspended, pending the probe.

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