Waterkloof landing: Promotion was always on the cards for Ntshisi despite security breach

2019-07-04 20:18
The chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Gallo)

The chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Gallo)

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The chief of South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang told the commission of inquiry into state capture on Thursday that despite Major Thabo Ntshisi being implicated in the infamous Gupta Waterkloof landing, he was always going to be promoted.

Ntshisi, among others, was named as one of the people responsible in the justice, crime prevention and security (JCPS) cluster report into the 2013 Gupta Waterkloof landing. The breach saw a commercial aircraft landing at the Waterkloof military base. It carried more than 200 guests who attended the infamous Gupta wedding in Sun City. 

Only VIPs and VVIPs are allowed to land at the base.

Earlier on Thursday, the commission heard testimony from Lieutenant General Derrick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi who was president of the board of inquiry (for the JCPS investigation).

Mgwebi said Ntshisi knew that the request to land the aircraft at Waterkloof was irregular but misled his seniors to get approval.

Despite this, Ntshisi - who was a warrant officer at the time - was promoted to his current rank.

Msimang told the commission that a negative finding on Ntshisi does not mean his career should end.

"The major [Ntshisi] was charged and after that his career continued. Unless you [the evidence leader] are suggesting that, [since] there were some negative findings on him, he shouldn't be promoted or shouldn't undergo further development and so forth."

He added that the promotion was a feature in his career all along.

ALSO READ: Direct order from state protocol chief prompted Gupta's Waterkloof landing, Zondo commission hears

"I would also like to put it on record here that the warrant officer at that time … was being prepared to be attached to Dirco [the Department of International Relations and Cooperation] because at that time we sensed there was a problem.

"Hence at the level of warrant officer, it was part of his career plan that he would get the training and after that get deployed to Dirco to ensure that there is smooth operations between us and Dirco…"

Ntshisi was not the only official to receive a promotion after the incident. South African Ambassador to the Netherlands Bruce Koloane, who was chief of state protocol at the time of the landing, was the only person in the entire incident who pleaded guilty to the contravention of the military code.

He left mostly unscathed, however, and was later promoted to his current position.

In his testimony Msimang admitted that, during the time of the landing, "there were no checks and balances".

"Arrangements hinge on trust and integrity. Initially, when I tried to categorise the type of requests that come in … the environment from where that information is activated, the right information has to come through otherwise it contaminates the whole process. That's why I said there are no checks and balances from the point when that information comes to the defence force.

"This request shouldn't have gone through after we said no. Period."

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the commission of inquiry, however, posited that despite the systematic failure that allowed the landing to happen, officials should be morally guided.

"When all is said and done, nobody can say 'I didn't know that it was wrong' because if, particularly the key people knew that this was not right and that it wasn't in accordance with the, one, the operating procedures and policies, and two, the practices, then they should have said no."

READ: Officials should have said 'no, this is not on' - top official

Zondo continued: "And then the whole question is why they didn't say no … therefore if one is looking at it, it may be that we shouldn't put a lot of emphasis on any inadequacies that might have been there in the systems because anybody who wanted to do the right thing knew what to do. And if they did the right thing and had the courage to do the right thing, this would not have happened." 

Msimang could only respond that the entire incident should not have happened, adding, since then, they have taken steps to close such gaps in the system so that a similar incident never happened again.

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