'Defence Force denied Guptas request to land'

SANDF says permission from a Gupta-owned business to use the Waterkloof Air Force base was denied.

Guests arrive at the Waterkloof Air Force Base for the Gupta wedding. Picture: Barry Bateman/EWN.

PRETORIA - The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has now confirmed it was first approached by an official from the Gupta-owned Sahara Computers for permission to use the Waterkloof Air Force Base, but this request was denied.

Controversy has raged after a privately chartered jet carrying around 200 Gupta wedding guests from India landed at the airbase in Pretoria on Tuesday.

International Relations have since suspended its Chief of State Protocol officer, Bruce Koloane, as it investigates who authorised the aircraft to land at the national key point.

The defence force said it was approached by a Sahara Computers representative to assist in approving a request to use the Waterkloof Air Force Base that was to be sent by the Indian High Commission.

The department spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said the quest for help was dismissed and Sahara was advised to ask the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA).

Dlamini said they never expected there would be further efforts to secure the air force base via diplomatic channels.

He said the Indian High Commission submitted the application to International Relations adding that Koloane dealt directly with the air force and not Defence Headquarters.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula rescinded the authorisation and initiated an investigation.

MINISTRY ACTED SWIFTLY

Meanwhile, International Relations' Clayson Monyela said Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane acted swiftly on Koloane.

"The officials involved somehow managed to secure flight clearances, but it was done without the knowledge or instruction of the executive."

He said the authorisation was done without senior management being aware.

"Koloane is on compulsory leave with immediate effect so that the department can get to the bottom of this matter. An internal investigation is to start to with immediate effect with other state organisations."

Monyela said the Gupta's guests will not depart from the base.

"The people who came through Waterkloof will not exit through it because it is a military facility and what happened should not have happened."

A government official told Eyewitness News on Wednesday when a private aircraft like the Gupta's arrive at a non-commercial airport, the application for such a landing is discussed by the Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee.

The committee is responsible for managing the country's ports of entry on which delegates from several departments including the Home Affairs, Defence and State and Security sit.

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) is also represented on the committee because it handles matters relating to customs by collecting duties and taxes.

In terms of the Customs Act, Waterkloof Air Force Base is not designated as an international commercial airport.

But Sars spokesman Adrian Lackay said the legislation makes provision for special permission to be granted for an aircraft to land at such an airport.

Sars are now investigating why customs officials were not present when the Gupta family's wedding guests arrived.

Meanwhile, it's also reported that President Jacob Zuma will not be attending the wedding at Sun City.

He is headed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for a meeting about the Central African Republic (CAR).