Waterkloof Gupta 'scapegoat' on warpath
Fast approaching her retirement next year, Lieutenant Colonel Christine Anderson, who was caught up in the Guptagate wedding scandal, fought last week at a South African National Defence Force board of inquiry to save her reputation and career. She is also taking the fight beyond the military to the office of the public protector.
Anderson, now 59, is the movement control officer at Waterkloof.
The inquiry in Gauteng was set up to investigate the involvement of air force officials in the irregular clearance for the landing of the wedding plane chartered by the influential Gupta family at the Waterkloof Air Force Base on April 30. The officers were placed on leave after the incident was exposed by the media.
The South African National Defence Union provided Anderson with legal representation.
The inquiry was headed by a panel of defence force top brass and legal teams were able to cross-examine and call witnesses.
Her lawyer, Jean Griesel, told the Mail & Guardian he now had instructions to file a complaint with the public protector, Thuli Madonsela, about what he believed was unfair treatment of Anderson.
"I think the speed with which the initial government investigation was done was not proper," said Griesel. "They never consulted my client. They asked her in writing some questions, which she responded to. The next thing they made a report public, without giving her a chance to clarify or respond, and made negative findings against her."
It was alleged by an appointed government investigating team that Anderson had "shared a common purpose and acted in concert" with others who had manipulated the Waterkloof processes and allowed the Gupta wedding plane to land.
At the inquiry, Griesel cross-examined witnesses, including Sergeant Major Thabo Ntshisi at the air force command post, who allegedly told investigators that Anderson had influenced his decision to issue the clearance for the plane to land.
The justice, crime prevention and security (JCPS) cluster report about the use of Waterkloof, which was released last month, quotes Ntshisi as saying Anderson said: "In confidentiality, I must be very careful now; our Number One knows about this. It is political. Allow them. I'll phone the ambassador back to find out who's the senior minister."
The JCPS report found that actions taken by Anderson and the chief of state protocol, Bruce Koloane, amounted to a serious dereliction of duty. "Their activities also indicate the bringing to bear of undue influence on state officials, systems, equipment and infrastructure," the JCPS said in its report. Anderson was found to have inverted command and control and unduly influenced the processing of the clearance.
It was recommended that all affected departments and entities complete their investigations into the matter as soon as possible and that disciplinary measures be implemented.
"Criminal cases involving public officials or private persons must, as a matter of priority, be pursued to their logical conclusion," the report said.
Although Anderson was publicly named and shamed in the government report, the M&G understands she alleged at last week's disciplinary hearing that she had followed the usual chain of command during the landing of the Jet Airways charter flight JAI 9900 from India. The 217 passengers were then ferried either by light aircraft, helicopters or in police-escorted vehicles to attend the lavish wedding of Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia at Sun City's Palace of the Lost City.
From the outset of the controversy Anderson has maintained that it was not she but several people in air force command who provided clearance for the jet to land at Waterkloof.
Griesel said that, after the clearance permission was granted by Anderson's superiors it was her job to prepare for the landing.
The preparation is usually done in consultation with the department of international relations and co-operation and the chief of state protocol, in this case Koloane, who has been suspended. Statements and evidence that Anderson handed to her legal team allegedly reveal how Koloane twice referred to "Number One" as wanting this event to run smoothly.
Although it was never made clear who Number One was, it was assumed that Koloane was referring to President Jacob Zuma, who is closely linked to the Guptas.
Although not wanting to discuss that aspect of the case, Griesel said name-dropping had not influenced Anderson in her job. For the landing of the Airbus A330-200 the clearance was granted by others and she was duly notified, and made preparations for the aircraft and passengers to be welcomed, he said.
Griesel said it was not Anderson's job to inform home affairs or the South African Revenue Service that a plane had been given clearance to land on a specific date.
"In her post Christine Anderson is simply told that a plane is going to land," he said. "She then gets the facility ready for the aircraft to land. I can't say any more, except that my client was not given an opportunity to respond to allegations against her before the government report was released. On this occasion [the board of inquiry hearing] I was given the chance to cross-examine witnesses."
Two other air force officials who were placed on leave, Brigadier General Les Lombard, who is the officer commanding the air force command post, and Waterkloof base commander, Brigadier General TS Sam Madumane, also appeared before the inquiry. Lombard declined to comment and Madumane could not be reached for comment.
The inquiry is expected to recommend whether the officials should be subjected to disciplinary proceedings or criminal action, or sent back to work.
Concerns that Anderson is being used as a scapegoat have elicited considerable support from aviation specialists on online websites.
One commentator said he felt compelled to defend her on the South African Air Force unofficial website: "It sickens me when someone lower down has to take the fall for someone higher up in the command chain," he wrote. "The rank of Lt-Col is not to[o] high up, yet her whole career is now in turmoil and her pension in jeopardy!!!! Not fear [fair] at all."
ANC branch seeks lawyer's opinion on complaint against a Gupta
The wealthy ANC Ward 117 branch in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, has appointed a lawyer to review a complaint made against influential businessman Atul Gupta, a member of the high-powered branch.
The Mail & Guardian was told by a branch member that the complaint centred on the ramifications for the ruling party of the Gupta wedding plane landing at Waterkloof Air Force Base. Gupta is a member of the politically connected family, known for its close ties to President Jacob Zuma. Two of Zuma's children have business connections with the Guptas.
"I handed over the documents to her [the lawyer] on Sunday, as I've just returned from overseas," said branch chairperson Sipho Sithole.
"The lawyer is a member of the ANC in good standing. She will look at the complaint made against him, see whether he has a case to answer, and then draw up charges. I don't want to name her at this stage."
Once the charges are drawn up a disciplinary hearing will be convened against Gupta within seven days.
A complaint was made against Gupta by one of the Saxonwold branch members, reported to be branch secretary Tebogo Khaas Sithole declined to confirm this.
It was also too early to say whether Gupta would be charged with bringing the ANC into disrepute, he said.
On April 30, a plane chartered by the Guptas, carrying 217 guests to the wedding of Vega Gupta and Indian-born Aakash Jahajgarhia at Sun City, landed at the Waterkloof base. The landing caused heated controversy, including major ructions in the ruling party.
The Ward 117 branch decided that lawyer Dali Mpofu could not draw up the charges as he had been selected to convene Gupta's disciplinary committee. Mpofu and his wife, Mpumi, are both members of the branch. Sithole said he had also requested that the branch advise Gupta about what was happening, so he did not have to find out about it through the media.
The branch was strongly opposed to another Zuma term as party president in the run-up to the ANC's Mangaung national conference last December.
Gary Naidoo, the spokesperson for the Gupta family, declined to comment on the issue. "Your query is best directed to the branch chair of the Saxonwold ANC," he said.
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