Times SELECT 10 July 2019

He’s been widely dubbed as former president Jacob Zuma’s “fall guy” over the 2013 Waterkloof Air Force Base landing –and Bruce Koloane lived up to that billing on Tuesday.

Appearing for the second time at the commission of inquiry into state capture on Tuesday, Koloane assumed most of the blame for facilitating the landing of the Gupta family’s wedding guests at the restricted Waterkloof military base in April 2013.

This flew in the face of testimony just a day earlier, when he denied any wrongdoing on his part over the saga.

On Tuesday, even when the commission confronted him with telephone recordings in which he tells senior officials at the defence and military veterans department that Zuma, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and then transport minister Ben Martins all knew of and approved the landing, Koloane maintained that he lied to them to place added pressure for the flight to be cleared.

He also admitted to abusing diplomatic channels to facilitate the landing, misrepresenting facts to senior officials at the defence department, and compromising normal processes and procedures.

Koloane, who was head of state protocol at the time, was suspended soon after the Jet Airways plane landed at Waterkloof. But, upon pleading guilty to three charges set out by an international relations and cooperation department disciplinary committee, he received a lucrative post as SA’s ambassador to the Netherlands from Zuma.

Koloane read out those same charges while on the stand at the commission on Tuesday.

The charges against him were:

  • That he abused diplomatic channels and took it upon himself to facilitate an “illegal request” for the landing of an international aircraft at a restricted military base. Because the Indian High Commission (which initially made the request for the landing) failed to provide official documents to Dirco, Koloane committed a “serious infringement” by posing a “private matter” as state business;
  • That he also spoke directly to the command post at Waterkloof (not normal protocol) and stated that Indian ministers would be arriving on the flight when this was not the case. Koloane also stood accused of “dropping the names” of Zuma, Mapisa-Nqakula and Martins  “in an effort to pressurise the command post to issue the clearance for such an illegal landing”;
  • That he misrepresented facts when he told Command Centre Flight Post officer Thabo Ntshisi, who was in charge of permitting the landing, that this was “a unique case”; and
  • That he compromised processes and procedures at Dirco because the department had no recommended the landing take place. “This amounted to the use of a senior government official to arrange a wedding reception at a strategic entry point which was a major security violation,” the charge reads.

Responding to the charges, Koloane placed all the blame on himself.

“I pleaded administrative negligence because the impression that had been created was that there had not been any application and I was informed by the Indian High Commissioner (Virendra Gupta) that he had applied, and since I indicated yesterday (Monday) that they had actually followed the similar process when they were hosting their head of state, I was of the assumption that all was done properly and by the book. I did agree that I erred in that,” Koloane said.

In recorded conversations which the commission played between Koloane and senior defence officials, including Ntshisi, he is heard saying that Martins and Mapisa-Nqakula were aware of the flight.

Reference was also made to “Number One”, understood to be Zuma, whose instructions Koloane said he was acting on.

“I indicated that at no stage did the minister of transport, defence or the president … in any way communicate with me either by themselves or through anyone in their offices. I abused the power of my office by calling officials who are processing and exerted pressure on them. But at no stage did I have control of diplomatic channels.

“I used my office to follow up on why the flight clearance was not processed. I do accept that it’s a clear abuse of my portfolio as the chief of protocol to have put pressure on the officials, in this case Ntshisi, to expedite the processing of the flight clearance, particularly given that I had not myself verified even with him whether all the administrative requirements had been met.”

He admitted to using the names of those ministers and Zuma in pressuring defence employees to clear the flight – and maintained they had no knowledge of the flight and that he was not acting on their instructions.

“I agree that it was wrong of me to use their names … it potentially can taint the reputation and the image of the three that you have just mentioned. There was nothing in it for me,” he said.

But his version of events was vastly different to his testimony when he first appeared on Monday, when he said he merely asked for officials to expedite the Indian High Commission’s (IHC) application to land at Waterkloof.

Describing the lead-up to the landing, Koloane said on Monday that he instructed Ntshisi to process the flight application with the understanding that the IHC had submitted all the required documentation. This time round, he said he pressured Ntshisi because he felt the need to appease the IHC.

Koloane is expected to head back to the Netherlands after his testimony. In the meanwhile, the commission will continue with evidence relating to Transnet.

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