Bangui bunglers score R209m in contracts

The aircraft brokering company that failed South African soldiers during the battle of Bangui – among other transgressions – has since landed more than R200-million of business from the South African National Defence Force.

Read SA soldiers died in CAR while generals dithered

A tender list compiled for ama­Bhungane shows that between April last year and June this year Y&P Logistics received contracts worth R209-million – three times the combined value of business granted to seven other approved bidders.

This is despite the fact that, when SANDF soldiers were besieged by Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic in March last year, the company failed to supply an aircraft on time to deliver vital equipment needed by troops on the ground.

That failure came after the controversial intervention of a senior officer to cancel the emergency contract that operations staff had negotiated with another company that had an aircraft available on short notice. In the end, Y&P was able to deliver an aircraft only days later than stipulated.

Thirteen South African soldiers were killed and 27 wounded in the three-day battle, though it seems that the SANDF woke up to the danger too late. Even if Y&P had performed as required, the men would probably have died.

In a letter dated June 26 last year Major-General William Nkonyeni, the general officer commanding joint operational headquarters, recommended the removal of Y&P from the defence department’s supplier database.

Nkonyeni said Y&P’s inclusion in the database was under question because of noncompliance. He added that it was not an ­aviation company, and that its management did not support the SANDF’s requirements.

He also complained that the company “did not submit detailed ­information in respect of their experiences in the air transport industry, as required, due to no previous aviation experience”.

‘Hung out to dry’
Military analyst Helmoed Römer Heitman, author of The Battle in Bangui: The Untold Inside Story, commented: “I do not understand why we have not yet had a court martial in this matter. Leaving troops hung out to dry like that is not acceptable.”

Despite demands by several senior SANDF officers for an investigation of Y&P’s role in the Bangui ­incident, no action appears to have been taken.

An internal memo seen by ama­Bhungane shows that the director of joint operational support, Brigadier General Tersia Jacobs, was furious about the incident.

“How is it possible that an aircraft was chartered to meet joint operation … requirements and was allowed to meet the requirement a week later, putting the lives of our soldiers even more at risk?” Jacobs demands.

She also asked that civilian contractors should not be allowed to jeopardise operations in future.

Yet Y&P continued to land contracts for various missions in Africa and in November last year, eight months after the Bangui debacle, was again listed on the approved supplier database.

The SANDF has failed to respond to detailed queries, despite being given a week to do so.

This is not the only controversy in which Y&P has been embroiled. According to internal SANDF documents seen by amaBhungane:

•?A Y&P-brokered plane is alleged to have suffered depressurisation while flying from Kinshasa to Bloemfontein in May last year, and the company could not provide a replacement aircraft, as required by its contract.

•?In June last year, Y&P allegedly chartered an aircraft that was not approved by the defence department’s procurement division and that was subsequently damaged on landing in Kigali, Rwanda, resulting in a partly closed airport and causing an international incident.

•?Nine days later, the same plane was allegedly listed as a backup aircraft for an SANDF mission to Sudan. A senior SANDF officer claimed that Y&P did not disclose that the aircraft was still detained by the Rwandans, adding that by doing this it had “jeopardised a peace operation’s sustainment flight”.

•?Y&P allegedly won an SANDF tender by offering another company’s aircraft, and then changed the registration details – apparently in breach of SANDF rules.

This would violate tender rules, partly because each plane must be vetted beforehand by the State Security Agency, the transport department, the South African Civil Aviation Authority and the SANDF.

Mysterious backing
Y&P, which seems to operate from a private house in Midrand, was registered in 2003 as a clearing and forwarding operation responsible for clearing goods through customs.

It has also taken to supplying transport aircraft for the SANDF, which it brokers from charter companies.

It is unclear why the company appears to enjoy such marked SANDF favour. One of its members, Devi Padayachy, is a former employee of an Armscor subsidiary. The other director is her husband, Thavaseelen Padayachy.

The memo signed by Brigadier General Jacobs notes that in April last year, a month after the battle of Bangui, Y&P entertained SANDF members at a function at the Carousel Casino near Pretoria.

Jacobs added that “it might be necessary to investigate the relationship between the company and relevant role-players to ensure that it did not contribute” to the Bangui failure.

AmaBhungane has confirmed that Devi Padayachy earlier worked at Armscor’s Macro Freight, now AB Logistics, as a shipping operator ­concerned with administering the clearance of goods through customs. She appears to have resigned this post a few months after Y&P Logistics was registered.

Y&P’s spokesperson, James Duncan, declined to answer queries about the couple and the company’s record, saying “the questions and allegations … are denied [it is] extremely unfair, unsubstantiated and defamatory”.

“Y&P will have no alternative but to institute action against the Mail & Guardian for any damages it may suffer” if uncorroborated and defamatory allegations were published, Duncan said.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Pauli van Wyk
Pauli van Wyk is a Scorpio investigative journalist. She writes about the justice cluster, state-owned companies, state politics and the inescapable collision course they're on. Pauli cut her teeth at Media24. She became a journo at Beeld, was trained by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and joined Mail & Guardian's investigative team before becoming a member of Scorpio.

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