The newly appointed Denel board has been instructed to begin an immediate investigation into the apparent approval of a R1.1 million plus bursary to the son of North West premier, Supra Mahumapelo, for him to become a pilot.
This is according to trade union Solidarity which has it that the bursary, approved in 2017, was to cover flight training, accommodation, meals and laundry for Supra Oarabile Mahumapelo. The bursary was to see the 20-year-old take up residence at 43 Air School in Port Alfred for a year, probably as one of the students in a Boeing/43 Air School partnership.
This is apparently the first time Denel has awarded a bursary for someone to qualify as a commercial pilot. Afrikaans weekend paper Rapport was initially told by Denel the bursary was ordinary and part of continuing transformation in the aviation industry. Hours later, Denel was told to retract the statement by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.
The new Minister told the Sunday paper the allegations were so serious and Denel’s conduct so questionable he had ordered the new Denel board to begin an investigation – immediately.
Deon Reyneke, Solidarity deputy general secretary for defence and aviation, said the bursary was “controversial, because historically Denel’s bursary programme only applied to studies in IT, engineering, finance and business management”.
“The granting of this bursary is just more proof of the high level corruption that is prevailing in so many state-owned enterprises in South Africa where cadres are using such enterprises as their personal piggy bank. Moreover, rumours have been doing the rounds for quite some time that Mahumapelo Snr has ties with the Gupta family and is, in the bigger picture, linked to state capture,” Reyneke said.
According to Rapport, Mahumapelo junior would be one of three pilots, who if they earned their wings, would become test pilots for SARA (South African Regional Aircraft), currently only a Denel paper project to build a small passenger aircraft intended for regional use in Africa. Aviation industry insiders are in agreement the use of newly-minted pilots to test new aircraft is out of the question.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) said it will lay charges of fraud and corruption against the North West premier and Zwelakhe Ntshepe, Denel chief executive who apparently signed the bursary request.
“The allegations (in respect of the bursary) may point to a clear violation of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA),” shadow Public Enterprises Minister Natasha Mazzone said.
Gordhan last week appointed a new board at Denel, which aims to clear up the struggling state-owned company’s finances and fix the mismanagement and corruption that had seeped in during the previous board’s tenure.