South Africa: Govt Rattled By Waterkloof Landing but Learnt Nothing - Former Justice DG

Aircraft parked at South Africa's Waterkloof Air force Base which is considered a national key point (file photo).

"Name dropping" cropped up numerous times at the state capture commission of inquiry, mainly relating to the country's former "Number 1", Jacob Zuma.

Nonkululeko Sindane, former director general of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, told Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on Wednesday how the practice could cause, and has caused, serious damage.

Sindane was speaking about the justice, crime prevention and security (JCPS) cluster investigation into the Gupta Waterkloof landing of 2013 when 200 guests of the Gupta family landed at the Waterkloof air force base in a commercial aircraft to attend the family's lavish wedding in Sun City.

Sindane said one of the recommendations of the JCPS cluster was to stop the practice in its tracks before South Africa was embarrassed again.

"The public service must do something to deal with this issue of name dropping because it is dangerous for government and the country. We were in this embarrassing situation precisely because people used other people's names/titles to achieve objectives that would otherwise not be possible to achieve, if not because of the name that is being used."

"In this case, we were specific [in our recommendation]. We were referring to the use of Ben Martins (former Minister of Transport)... the Minister of Defence [Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula]... and Number 1."

Sindane was referring to the use of the term "Number 1" by South Africa's ambassador to the Netherlands, Bruce Koloane, as well as the names of ministers in the Presidency, to persuade officials to authorise the landing.

"These were people who did something wrong because they genuinely believed that either Number 1 was okay with it [or] the ministers were okay with this, and they genuinely acted believing that was true," she said.

However, Zondo said he interpreted the facts differently - not as name dropping, but as a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts.

"If he accepted that he made those statements and he then said to you: 'I actually wasn't telling the truth when I said Number 1 knew about it... ' then it would seem to have been a deliberate misrepresentation of facts," Zondo said.

Sindane agreed but said there were no facts to misrepresent as there was no indication that Zuma or the ministers knew about this, adding that "it puts people in trouble and makes innocent people act wrongly simply because they believe that authority wants this to be done".

She said the entire incident would "never had happened if senior names had never been used".

'It could have easily gone on'

"Our conclusion was, in this particular event, there was lack of professionalism in how people dealt with their responsibilities and we're encouraging people to deal with these issues and report them.

"We (the JCPS cluster) then concluded that some of the behaviours that were displayed during this whole process could almost be unethical or ascribed to a lack of professionalism or if not, then I would even argue that it was outright reckless in how it was undertaken," she continued.

At the closing of her testimony, Sindane was asked whether the incident "rattled government". She replied that she had not seen that reaction in government before.

"Government was rattled to a point that I hadn't seen in my experience of government until that point... " she said.

"Government was so rattled by this thing, I had never been in meetings where there were so many senior officials of government in one meeting for hours on end discussing one thing."

She added, however, that South Africa had not learnt from it.

"Did we learn something out of this? I would say we could have learned something if action was taken. I don't know what action was taken... and therefore I don't know if we have learned enough to prevent this thing from happening in future."

Even though Koloane pleaded guilty to contravening the military defence code, he was later promoted to become South Africa's ambassador of the Netherlands. Many believe that no one was truly held accountable for the landing.

"When it gets to the point where national assets are abused to that level, it's a shock. And it's particularly a shock because people get fired for the smallest things and for something this big, I mean... I'm just disappointed today as I was disappointed when this happened," Sindane said.

"If the media had not picked this thing up, it would have gone on and nobody would have been the wiser, and that's what shocks me... and makes me very disappointed... if no one had picked this up it could have easily gone on," she said.

Source: News24

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