Black First Land First activists were forcibly removed by bouncers from a Parliament meeting on Tuesday morning when they physically confronted Fireblade Aviation chairperson Nicky Oppenheimer during his submission to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs.
Oppenheimer was not injured during the attempted altercation.
In a video of the incident, BLF activists can be seen being forcibly removed from the S12A chamber while the group chants, "Shut down Fireblade. Shut down Fireblade."
The Porfolio Committee was receiving a briefing from the owners of Fireblade Aviation - which includes chairperson Nicky Oppenheimer, CEO Jonathan Oppenheimer and director Manne Dipico - on its operation of the private terminal at OR Tambo International airport.
The briefing follows a visit by the committee on August 30 to the private terminal, where the committee raised concerns, among others, that there was no written agreement between the state and Fireblade. The committee also raised questions around the impact the operation had on state coffers.
The aim of the committee meeting was 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.
At the beginning of the meeting Oppenheimer dismissed allegations that he and his son Johnathan Oppenheimer started the company as an “uncontrolled” air traffic facility for the family's private travel.
Gigaba and Fireblade
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 case was first brought in November 2016 by Fireblade to enforce a decision initially made by Gigaba in early 2016, when he was home affairs minister.
The Home Affairs Department then appealed the judgment on the grounds that Gigaba suspended approval. But this was dismissed by Tuchten on February 21 when Gigaba was finance minister.
Oppenheimer told the meeting that allegations that Fireblade was a family air travel facility above the law were not true.
“These comments are simply not true. In addition to Fireblade, other private facilities exist in the country such as Lanseria and Mpumalanga International Airport that supply similar services. Fireblade is by no means unique,” said Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer told the committee that the company sought the approval of a range of government entities, including the Department of Transport, the Air Traffic Navigation Services [ATNS] and the Airports Company of South Africa before Fireblade Aviation went into operation.
“Primary control of aircraft is managed by ATNS on behalf of government. All Fireblade Aviation movements are controlled by ATNS, Acsa and the South African government. The Fireblade terminal is available to any flights that meet the criteria,” Oppenheimer said.
Oppenheimer also dismissed the suggestion in public discussions that Fireblade was established to give the Oppenheimers private personal travel as a family.
“Only 6% of the movement of Fireblade Aviation movements in the period that the business started were movements of the Oppenheimer family. We are committed to a world class service to South Africans,” he said.
Oppenheimer said Fireblade started with domestic traffic and restrictions applied there as they did elsewhere. He said the company underwent negotiations with a number of departments.
During a session of questions from the committee members, BLF activist Andile Mngxitama stood up and told the committee chair Hlomane Chauke that Fireblade was misleading Parliament and that the company should be shut down.
“They are lying to you. You are allowing them to lie to you. They have already captured the ANC. They should be shut down,” Mngxitama said.
Chauke rejected Mngxitama’s interruptions and activists charged to the seats where Nicky Oppenheimer and the Fireblade delegation were seated. They shouted at the delegates before lunging at Nicky Oppenheimer, but were removed before anyone was harmed.
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