Current chief of state protocol Jerry Matjila testified before the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture that he first became aware of the Gupta family’s request to land at Waterkloof Airforce Base via the news and social media after their arrival.
“Before that, I was not in the picture. Normally, I would get involved when heads of state come,” Matjila told the commission.
Matjila was testifying on Monday before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — where he described, in detail, the process for foreign guests landing in South Africa.
The commission is currently focused on the infamous 2013 Waterkloof landing by Jet Airways for a Gupta family in Sun City. This incident brought attention to the Gupta family and opened the door to revelations about their alleged role in state capture.
At the time of the controversy, Matjila was the director-general of the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco).
Matjila recounted how he called a meeting with different interdepartmental heads implicated in facilitating the landing including then chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane. According to Matjila, the meeting started at four in the afternoon and only ended at nine pm.
“There was an issue of the note-verbale which wasn’t sent,” Matjila said. Matjila then proceeded to call the high commissioner of India because he says Dirco was not sure who was on the aircraft. Matjia said he also wanted to verify whether the commissioner was involved in the facilitating of the landing to which he replied no.
A note verbale is diplomatic correspondence between two states that details the nature of the visit, purpose, the dates and whether the visit is state, official, working or private.
“He [the commissioner] apologised and knew that there was a very serious oversight on his part. This was a very serious error on their part.
“Once you go to a military base, the civilian part goes away so you need to provide documentation saying why you’re coming to a high security area,” Matjila said.
Matjila explained that whenever Dirco receives a request from officials from a foreign country to land in South Africa, then Dirco notifies the state protocol office of the note verbale that has been sent.
According to Matjila, the next step is to ask the president to approve the visit and once that has occurred, state protocol can then start with preparations for the visit. These preparations include interdepartmental meetings where logistics such as the visitor’s accommodation, meetings, tours and how they will be received are discussed.
All guests are screened by the State Security Agency and graded on the amount on risk. In cases where the size and type of aircraft requires landing at a military base then the department of defence gets involved.
Another important part of the discussions are how the visitors will be welcomed such as whether there will be a guard of honour. Once all the logistics have been dealt with, then the minister of international relations and cooperation as well as the president are given a report with all the details that will make the visit successful.
“Protocol is a very intimate and delicate issue so we need to make sure everything goes according to plan and it’s money well spent,” Matjila said.
Matjila’s testimony continues. Koloane is expected to testify later on Monday.