Snouts caught in the trough at Waterkloof

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Over the past week, every crocodile in South Africa has wept. The Waterkloof fiasco has elicited solemn pronouncements from the Presidency, the Cabinet and much of the African National Congress (ANC) alliance. Shock! Horror! Security breaches must never happen again!

After the Gupta affair blew up in the face of the ruling party, which feels the pain keenly, some of President Jacob Zuma’s senior Cabinet ministers held a charade in the guise of a press conference last Friday to "firewall" Zuma with a well-rehearsed mantra: "There was no executive authority." If you believe that, you might as well believe the Guptas are all about promoting wedding tourism in South Africa.

With a straight face, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe told the briefing that "the truth shall set us free" as he expressed grave concern about the "serious breach of national security". On one count he is correct. To fly a private plane full of tourists into military airspace is a serious breach of national security. But attempting to narrow this to a "security" affair is an act of desperation.

The national outrage boils down to this: the Guptas and their partners in the upper reaches of the ANC and the state have had their snouts in the trough for too long. This time they drank too deeply and South Africans have had enough. What all the politicians omit is that the security breach was possible only because it appears that certain senior officials of the ANC and the government are bought and paid for. So the race is on to find the fall guys among about a dozen military, diplomatic and police officials.

Meanwhile, Zuma, the elephant in the room, watches as members of his team play ministerial Russian roulette. Who will take the proverbial bullet for the president? Will it be Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula or International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane? Or can they successfully pin this on a few underlings? Can the ministers delude themselves (for, surely, they fool no-one else) with statements that there was "no executive authority" to fly into what is probably the most closely guarded air base in South Africa.

(One wonders, incidentally, just how much cash might have been on that plane, and where it might have gone. We’ll never know, because customs officials weren’t at Waterkloof.)

The state claims: "The defence attaché of the Indian high commission sent a request for aircraft clearance directly to the Air Force Command unit in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) on April 4. The air force consulted with the Office of State Protocol at the Department of International Relations and Co-operation and facilitated the clearance … without telling the chief of the SANDF".

Let us imagine that this is remotely true. The Indian high commission would have sent a request to the officer commanding Air Force Command, Brig-Gen L Lombard, directly. Lombard, in turn, would have contacted chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane, who would have happily acquiesced. No problem! Lombard would then have contacted the officer commanding Air Force Base Waterkloof, Brig-Gen TS Madumane, telling him to get the base ready for the tourists. Madumane would have made sure that the movement control officer at Waterkloof, Lt-Col C Anderson, had been briefed about her duties by the time the jet landed.

These four individuals would have, among themselves, co-ordinated and cleared probably the first ever landing of a civilian charter plane full of tourists at a high-security military base. That these tourists were relatives of the Guptas, who are reportedly pals with the president’s family, and whose financial largess is renowned in political circles, is merely circumstantial, as Radebe would no doubt opine.

But the chain of command points in one direction: to the commander in chief or, at the very least, the defence minister. Because, as any senior military personnel will tell you, there is no way that Lombard and Koloane acted without executive blessing.

These officials will be sacrificed, along with sovereign dignity, on the altar of a growing plutocracy. But South Africans are not stupid. There will be a reckoning.

Written by: Palesa Morudu

Picture credit: Business Day

Morudu is a writer based in Cape Town.This article was published on Business Day.




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