News / South Africa / State Capture

Makhosandile Zulu
3 minute read
8 Jul 2019
1:50 pm

Ex-protocol boss testifies at Zondo commission about Waterkloof landing

Makhosandile Zulu

Bruce Koloane says he could not have granted approval to land at the airforce base because he did not have the authority to do so.

Former chief of protocol Bruce Koloane is pictured at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg, 03 July 2019. Picture: Refilwe Modise

The former head of state protocol, Ambassador Bruce Koloane, on Monday took the stand at the commission of inquiry into state capture chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

Previous testimony by government officials implicated Koloane, accusing the ambassador of abusing his position by subverting department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) policies and procedures, which led to the illegal landing six years ago at the Air Force Base Waterkloof.

The Jet Airways-chartered plane was carrying 200 Indian guests attending the Gupta wedding at Sun City.

Koloane told the commission that he first learned of the landing when the High Commissioner from India called him to complain that nothing had happened to an application the commissioner had submitted for clearance to land at the airforce base.

“In our discussion, [the High Commissioner from India] did not mention anything about a head of state [being part of the visit],” Koloane told the commission.

Koloane said he only came to know that a head of state would not be part of those onboard the flight during a national intelligence coordinating committee (Nicoc) meeting where it was mentioned that a head of state would be onboard the flight, which was changed to that only ministers would be on board the aircraft.

Koloane said after the commissioner’s complaint, he contacted his personal assistant (PA) to request her to follow up with Dirco as to what was causing the delay in the application.

Koloane’s PA called him back to inform him that Dirco knew nothing about the application, the commission heard, a matter which the ambassador said he then relayed to the High Commissioner from India who then informed him that the application had been sent to the department of defence.

Koloane said he then called Major Thabo Ntshisi, who was a warrant officer at the time, to inquire about the application and ask for it to be processed.

Koloane told the commission that his interactions with the High Commissioner from India, his PA and Ntshisi had been over the phone as he was out of the office at the time and so had not seen any documentation related to the application.

Koloane said that when he spoke with Ntshisi, he got the impression that the major was aware of the application and that Ntshisi’s response was that the application did not have a note verbale attached for him to complete the necessary process.

The commission heard that Koloane then advised Ntshisi to revert back to the High Commissioner from India about the note verbale.

Koloane said that since he did not have the authority to approve the application, there must have been confusion between himself and his PA who sent an email to department senior foreign affairs assistant William Matjila stating that Koloane had approved the application.

The commission heard that all the ambassador sought to achieve was for the application to be processed so he would relay the outcome of the processing to the High Commissioner from India.

“I did not give myself power I did not have,” Koloane told the commission.

Koloane further pointed out that if he sought “to do something dubious” why would he have asked his PA to copy two senior officials from Dirco in the email.

He said he only came to know of the content of the email once the Nicoc investigation into the landing had gotten underway.

Koloane told the commission that Dirco did not have a legal mandate to determine whether flights could land at Waterkloof Air Force Base but simply acted as a “conduit” between the diplomatic mission and the department of defence.

Koloane said he was also present at an earlier meeting with Tony Gupta, then minister of transport Ben Martins, and Airport Company of South Africa CEO Bongani Maseko, where Gupta sought permission to land the family’s wedding guests at OR Tambo International Airport.

READ MORE: Tony Gupta wanted ‘welcoming ceremony’ for Zuma’s ‘guests and friends’ at OR Tambo

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