Fireblade Aviation's Nicky Oppenheimer told Parliament's portfolio committee on home affairs that, while it had no written approval from Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba to set up the company's air traffic facility, Fireblade had minutes to a meeting where Gigaba told the company that he would approve the OR Tambo International Airport facility.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs was left baffled when a delegation from Fireblade Aviation said it did not have all agreements for its domestic and international non-schedule air traffic terminal, even though the Fireblade chair Nicky Oppenheimer says many agreements to this effect were in place.
The committee held the meeting to get to the bottom of the dispute between the company and Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba regarding the circumstances behind how the company got approval for its private air travel facility.
Earlier this year, North Gauteng High Court Judge Niell Tuchten said Gigaba lied to the courts when he said he never gave the company approval to operate the facility.
The North Gauteng High Court also ruled that the provision of Home Affairs customs services continue at Fireblade's terminal, but in the absence of written approval and a framework with which a privately owned terminal could utilise Home Affairs services, the situation got ever more complicated.
Oppenheimer told the committee on Tuesday that Fireblade met with Gigaba on the matter and, at some point, he agreed to allow them to assemble a domestic terminal at OR Tambo International Airport in Gauteng.
However, Oppenheimer said, Denel registered its misgivings over the agreement and Gigaba later reneged on the agreement. What followed was a legal dispute which led to the North Gauteng High Court ruling that Gigaba had lied under oath.
"I went to the Gigaba meeting... It was a cordial meeting and he said he was delighted that he would approve the venture and it was said that it would take a week to approve this. I thanked him and took him up on his suggestion to approach then-president Jacob Zuma to open the facility," said Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer said there was a series of meetings between Home Affairs deputy director general for immigration services Jackie May and Robbie Irons and there was progress. We learned that the minister received a letter from Denel and was tempted to renege on the agreement.
Fireblade CEO Jonathan Oppenheimer said there were approvals from various entities and departments under the agreement that services which only government could deliver would be present at the terminal.
"We spoke to stakeholders and a standing operating procedure was set up. After the court order we found that we have not heard anything from the department, in spite of the revision of this agreement,” said Irons.
Committee member for the Inkatha Freedom Party Sibongile Nkomo said it was baffling that the Oppenheimers thought it appropriate to do business with government without soliciting all forms of approval in writing.
“Many of us in the townships know the Oppenheimer family. Some of us have known about them since we were babies. I’m surprised that this is how business is being done in 2018. What kind of business has agreements without putting them in writing?” asked Nkomo.
Committee member for the Democratic Alliance Haniff Hoosen said the committee called Fireblade to submit to Parliament because it was of the view that all business with government should be done in line with the law.
“No person, regardless of how wealthy they might be, should use their wealth to get preferential treatment from the government. We need a sense of comfort that the Oppenheimers have not done this like the Guptas have,” said Hoosen.
Committee member for the Economic Freedom Fighters Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi said it made no sense for a family like the Oppenheimers to run such a business with no intention of making a profit.
Johnathan Oppenheimer said: "We wanted to make money, but not as a primary purpose. We wanted to enter into a business which made money, but also to provide a gateway and service into South Africa because we believed that South Africa needs to market itself to investors in a very spectacular way".
Nicky Oppenheimber said, while there was no written agreement with Gigaba, Fireblade had minutes to the meetings where Gigaba told them the terminal would be approved. Committee chair Hlomela Chauke asked Fireblade to supply those minutes and supporting documents by Friday.