Defence Minister’s report on Harare flight reaches Ramaphosa’s office


President Cyril Ramaphosa should act immediately and “not wait for (Defence and Military Veterans Minister) Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s compilation of yet another report to exonerate herself again from wrongdoing and blame SANDF (SA National Defence Force) leadership for being misled”.

This assertion comes from the Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister to Mapisa-Nqakula’s ministry and department, Kobus Marais. It was made hours before reports indicated the Ministerial response to a Presidential demand calling for a report on the flight to and from Harare by 21 Squadron’s Falcon 900 (ZS-NAN) was adhered to.

Department of Defence (DoD) spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini on Sunday said Mapisa-Nqakula completed and signed off on a report for the president on the circumstances of her sharing a flight to Zimbabwe with a delegation of senior African National Congress (ANC) leaders. ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule led the delegation to Harare to meet ZANU-PF leaders on the current crisis in that country.

Ramaphosa asked for a detailed report on “circumstances that led to the Minister sharing a flight to Harare, Zimbabwe, with a senior delegation of ANC leadership”.  This, according to a Presidency statement was “in the interest of good governance and the prudent and ethical use of State assets”.

“The President notes the public discussion generated around a flight to Harare by Minister Mapisa-Nqakula, who had permission to travel to Zimbabwe to meet her counterpart to discuss defence-related matters in the region following a recent SADC summit,” the Presidency said on 11 September.

Last week’s flight to the Zimbabwean capital was reportedly to discuss matters around restructuring of the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The brigade is staffed by Southern African Development Community (SADC) members Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania with moves afoot to change its make-up by including one composite battalion, presumably replacing a currently deployed SADC country one.

This is not in question by Marais, even though Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) force is negligible. What angers him is the use of the aircraft by an ANC delegation, apparently tasked to meet the ruling ZANU-PF to seek ways of ending violence and unrest in South Africa’s northern neighbour.

“It’s like they (the delegation) were calling for an Uber ride,” Marais said.

In an interview with ENCA on Sunday, Dlamini was asked by what authority Mapisa-Nqakula could use military aircraft to transport ANC political party members out of the country. “The minister was going to Harare herself and due to difficulties in lockdown regulations she decided to take the ANC delegation with. Zimbabwean challenges have an impact on South Africa,” Dlamini said.

“The reason why we took the delegation of the ANC – one, the minister was going there, the ANC was going there. Due to the situation and environment we find ourselves we took the delegation to Zimbabwe,” Dlamini told ENCA. “If we were requested [by the ANC], we agreed [to take the ANC delegation to Zimbabwe]”.

Defence expert and director at African Defence Review Darren Olivier stated: “This is shocking from Dlamini, the DoD spokesperson. Not only refusing to answer the question of legal authority, where it vests and how it was organised, but speaking on behalf of the minister rather than his department and equating ANC objectives with those of the state.

“I can’t emphasise this enough: The DoD is supposed to be a non-political entity, with all political decision-making and direction contained within the Ministry. Dlamini’s job is to defend the DoD, provide the facts around legal authority and let the minister handle her case.

“In his actions in this [ENCA] interview, he’s breaching the non-political role of the DoD, something meant to be sacrosanct and providing official support for the actions of a political party. This is not only unacceptable in terms of the principles involved, it’s dangerous,” Olivier concluded.

Marais goes back to 2013 and the landing at AFB Waterkloof of a Gupta chartered jet to point out it’s not the first time ruling party politicians have ridden roughshod over military – and other – protocols – for “party political interests and leisure jaunts”.

He adds Ramaphosa’s decision to call for an investigation into the Harare flight is not enough.

“He cannot seriously expect South Africans to rely on Mapisa-Nqakula’s office to conduct any trustworthy investigation, after the way its handling the SANDF report on the death of Collins Khosa was marred with discrepancies, confusion and contradictions.”

The Freedom Front Plus will, in addition to asking Parliamentary questions on the flight, ask Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to investigate.