Both the Presidency and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) have vehemently denied any wrongdoing in the use of military helicopters by members and/or friends of the Zuma family.
The denials, in the form of statements, were issued by Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj and Department of Defence head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini following a City Press report. The report indicated a second Oryx medium transport helicopter operated by 15 Squadron and allocated as part of the Presidential tasking between King Shaka International Airport and Nkandla had been withdrawn.
The first helicopter is for President Jacob Zuma while the second is apparently meant to ferry security personnel accompanying him.
The Sunday paper reports use of the second helicopter, referred to as the “jollie patrollie” or the “Zuma taxi”, was stopped about two months ago. Until then this back-up aircraft, for which the Presidency pays the SANDF a discounted rate of R63 000 an hour rather than the standard R70 000 commercial tariff, had been transporting members of Zuma’s family and friends between the coastal city and the Presidential homestead, it is alleged.
This saw, according to the paper, Presidential security personnel, on “several occasions” having to drive about three hours to Nkandla because the second/back-up helicopter was full.
Military sources confirmed to the Sunday paper the back-up helicopter has been grounded due to a funding shortage. Air Force insiders also told the paper the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has started making inquiries into the apparent misuse of back-up helicopters by the President’s friends and family, who apparently “hitched” rides from AFB Durban to Nkandla. The squadron operates both A109 light utility and Oryx medium transport helicopters from AFB Durban on the site of the old Durban International Airport.
Maharaj said the report was “baseless and mischievous”.
“Tasking for the President’s travel is made by the Presidency and it is stipulated clearly that the aircraft or helicopter is being booked for his use. Family members such as a spouse or a child may travel if accompanying the principal. At no stage has the Presidency ever made bookings for family members travelling alone. The South African Air Force has also informed the Presidency no such misuse of the helicopters has ever occurred,” the Maharaj statement said.
Dlamini was also dismissive in his statement referring to “so-called military sources” quoted in the report.
“The SANDF rejects these spurious allegations and places on record that at no point has the SA Air Force helicopter been used to transport family members. Furthermore at no point was such ever raised by any of the crew members of the Air Force with the Command of the Air Force,” his statement reads.