Row over Indian origin family using S African military air base

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 20:48

Johannesburg: The landing of a private aircraft full of guests for an Indian wedding - billed as South African wedding of the century - on a restricted Air Force base has raised eyebrows here with the ruling African National Congress demanding explanation from the military.

An aircraft, chartered by the prominent Gupta family - which has close ties to President Jacob Zuma - landed at the Waterkloof Air Base yesterday.

Local radio reported that the Guptas` wedding guests were flown to the base and escorted from there by blue-light vehicles to Sun City, in North West.

The billionaire family, which owns The New Age newspaper and Sahara Computers, is expected to celebrate the wedding of Vega Gupta, 23, to Indian-born Aaskash Jahajgarhia at Sun City between May 1-4.

The family says permission to land at Waterkloof was obtained through the Indian High Commission, while a SANDF spokesperson said that he was not aware of permission being given to any private airplane to land at the base, state-owned broadcaster SABC said in a report.

Leading union confederation Cosatu and the ruling ANC said they were demanding answers from the South African National Defence Force over the alleged misuse of government resources.

"It is an absolute insult to the people of South Africa that private individuals can use a public facility for their social activities and that state officials should escort them," Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said in a statement.

He said Cosatu was seeking an urgent investigation into who authorised the airfield`s use for a purely private function, warning of the possible risk to national security, and said those responsible should be disciplined.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) insists that it was not aware of any permission granted for the Gupta family to use Waterkloof.

"As far as I know, no permission has been granted to a private citizen to use the base. It is a military base and a national key point used by government and its guests," spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said.

The lack of explanation from the SANDF has drawn the ire of the ANC, which said it had waited patiently for an explanation on how these private individuals managed to land aircraft at Waterkloof.

In a statement, Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said that Waterkloof, as one of the national key points, is declared as such "on the basis of being so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation may prejudice the Republic".

"... Safeguarding of their sanctity is integral to the protection and upholding of the safety and sovereignty of the Republic.

"The African National Congress, driven by the concern for the safety and sovereignty of South Africa, shall never allow a situation where our ports of entry and National Key Points are penetrated with impunity"," media reports quoted him as saying.
PTI



First Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 20:48

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