After his initial denials of ever invoking the names of the former president and two cabinet ministers to pressure SA Air Force officials to allow the illegal Waterkloof Air Force Base landing, South African ambassador to the Netherlands, Bruce Koloane, has told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture that he lied.
In his testimony before Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo yesterday, Koloane, who served as chief of state protocol at the time of the aircraft landing, made a surprise admission that he used the names of former president Jacob Zuma, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and former transport minister Ben Martins to force Waterkloof-based Major Thabo Ntshisi and Colonel Christine Anderson to issue a flight clearance for the plane carrying 200 guests destined for the Gupta wedding at Sun City.
The incident, which constituted a national security breach at one of South Africa’s strategic military installations, became an embarrassment and a diplomatic nightmare for the Zuma administration, with former Indian high commissioner Virendra Gupta having been involved in soliciting the flight clearance certificate for the Waterkloof landing via Koloane.
Confronted by declassified audio telephone conversations with Ntshisi, who was a warrant officer at the time, prior to the landing, Koloane said he was “ashamed for having made an error” and for having misused the names of Zuma, Mapisa-Nqakula and Martins in requesting the speedy processing of the flight clearance.
In the recording he is heard using phrases like “Number One” – in reference to Zuma – and saying that the two ministers were “okay with it”.
On Monday, Koloane had questioned the investigation by the justice, crime prevention and security (JCPS) cluster led by former directors-general (DGs) Nonkululeko Sindane (justice), Tom Moyane (correctional services), Dennis Dlomo (intelligence) and Clinton Swemmer (intelligence).
He charged that the JCPS report contained “gross inaccuracies”, saying the allegations that he misused his position in government and was involved in name dropping were “untrue”.
In stark contrast, Koloane told Zondo on the second day of his testimony: “I admit that I did what was known as name dropping to push officials who were supposed to do their job, by getting them to grant a flight clearance for the plane landing.
“The president and ministers did not say to me I should deal with this. It was name dropping.
“Former transport minister Martins and current Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula did not say to me they had instructions from the president.
“The fault was from my side, which I have taken full responsibility for in putting pressure on SA Air Force officials to expedite the flight clearance request.
“The president never interfered with administrative work of protocol and landing of planes at Waterkloof. I abused the power of my office. I failed in my duties and should have communicated to my counterparts in the defence force.”
Asked by commission senior counsel Thandi Norman, why on his first day of testimony he had “no recollection” of details of the conversation between himself, Ntshisi and Anderson, Koloane replied: “It happened six years ago and the recordings have helped to refresh my memory”.
He conceded it was “wrong for me to use their names to process the flight clearance and I agree it tainted their reputation”.
He also told Zondo that there was “nothing in it for me”, in response to a question on what he stood to gain from his actions. “India was one of the strategic trading countries which are part of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). I had interest to appease the high commission to maintain good relations.”
Despite admitting yesterday that he had lied about abusing his position, and name-dropping former president Jacob Zuma, among others, it appears that Koloane’s position as ambassador to the Netherlands is secure.
- Department of international relations and and cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, yesterday said despite Koloane’s concession before Zondo, the department had already dealt with the matter.
- Monyela said that following the incident in 2013, Koloane had amitted guilt on all the charges against him, and sufficient action had been taken.
- Monyela referred back to former Dirco director-general Jerry Matjila’s testimony, in which he outlined the process followed after the incident.
- Following Koloane’s admission of guilt, he was apparently sanctioned by receiving a “final written warning”, before which he was promoted to the position of ambassador.
‘Too ashamed’ to personally apologise to trio
Diplomat Bruce Koloane – the man at the centre of the storm created by the landing six years ago of a Gupta-linked aircraft at the Air Force Base Waterkloof – is “still too ashamed” to face former president Jacob Zuma, former transport minister Ben Martins and current Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
During cross examination yesterday by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, Koloane told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture that he planned to write formal letters of apology to the three, for using their names to obtain flight clearance from SA Air Force officials who approved the landing of the chartered Jet Airways airbus on April 30, 2013.
But Koloane is not eager to meet Zuma, Martins and Mapisa-Nqakula in person.
“I will still write letters to apologise for what I put them through. But right now, I am too ashamed to face them,” said Koloane.
In three sets of telephone conversation recordings played at the commission yesterday, Waterkloof Air Force-based Major Thabo Ntshisi and Colonel Christine Anderson can be heard saying Koloane mentioned Martins, Mapisa-Nqakula and “Number One” – in reference to Zuma.
Anderson: “Let me say something to you, in confidentiality … he’s [Koloane] now just mentioned this … I must be very careful … Our ‘Number One’ knows about this. It’s political.”
Ntshisi: “So are they allowed to land there, ma’am, or not?”
Anderson: “Yes, my dear, they are.”