South Africa has suspended five senior government officials including military personnel following the unauthorized landing of a private chartered plane at an Air Force base.
The plane that landed at the Waterkloof Air Force base was chartered by the Gupta family, which has strong ties to President Jacob Zuma. The scandal that has been dubbed "Guptagate" after the influential Indian-born Gupta family, has gripped South Africa since the private flight landed at the Air Force base on Tuesday with nearly 200 guests for a lavish family wedding. The guests who were escorted by police to casino resort of Sun City, included Bollywood stars and Indian government officials.
DW: Thuso Khumalo, how can government officials land at an Air Force base and get police escort without clearance from the country's authorities?
Thuso Khumalo: This is the big question here in South Africa that everyone is asking, how this could have happened especially that the place is manned 24 hours a day. It has also created a diplomatic rift between South Africa and India. At a press briefing on Friday the South African government through five ministers that were present reacted angrily and described the landing as a breach of national security and a possible abuse of diplomatic ties. But of course some people have been suspended because of this incident.
Who are these five senior government officials and military personnel who have been suspended and how were they involved in the whole saga?
They are top officials in the departments of International relations and defense. Here I can mention the chief of state protocol who has been suspended the Air force officer commanding post, the Air force officer commanding peace, and also the movement control officer. It is alleged that these people might have played a role that led to the landing of this jet at the Air force base. Preliminary investigations show that the defense attache at the Indian commission sent a direct request for the clearance of this aircraft to land at the command unit of the defense force, instead of sending a request to the International relations office like protocol suggests. The command unit thereafter consulted the office of the state protocol, International relations office for clearance who granted permission for the aircraft to land. But the ministers have refuted all this, saying no executive permission was granted, meaning that they were not informed about it and they wouldn't allow it since they were not diplomats but rather people going to attend a wedding
At the same time according to a family statement Waterkloof Air Force base was used with the full permission of the authorities to receive foreign dignitaries including ministers. Who is telling the truth?
The government says no permission was granted, and it says it has document showing permission was sought .What they mean is that if the Indian High Commission wanted to make it through the normal diplomatic procedures, it would be through the International relations office which was not done. So what we make out of that is that they are indirectly accusing the Indian High Commission of breaching protocol. The minister of defense openly said that initially the Indian high Commissioner brought up the request and she denied it. So this shows that some low ranking officials facilitated the landing. The Indian High Commission says, he followed all the channels and has evidence to show for it and he is going to reveal it when the time comes up. A high powered committee has been set up that involves directors general of the five departments charged with immigration and emigration to find out whether protocol was respected by the Indian High Commission in sending in the application for request and whether the said permission was officially granted.
What has the Indian government said?
We have not had any official comment from the Indian government, but the Indian High Commissioner was interviewed by local broadcasters and he says he followed all the channels and has evidence to show for it and he is going to reveal it when the time comes. He is expected to meet officials from the International relations department to tell his side of the story.
Thuso Khumalo is DW's correspondent in Johannesburg
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