The Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s senior foreign affairs assistant, William Matjila, has told the commission of inquiry into state capture that he started realising that there were irregularities in the Gupta’s Waterkloof landing of 2013 when he did not receive the required note verbale – or diplomatic correspondence.
Matjila, who testified on Thursday morning at the inquiry, said he was asked to process a request from “the Indian delegation” – understood to be the Indian High Commission – and went ahead with the request after receiving “confirmation” from then chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane.
Koloane was the only person who faced repercussions for his role in allowing the landing, despite the justice, crime prevention and security (JCPS) cluster investigation implicating a range of people. He was later made ambassador to the Netherlands, a position he still holds.
Matjila said in his testimony that, without a note verbale, there were no details of the flight available, and that no plane is allowed to land at the military base. A note verbale is a diplomatic correspondence written in third person, but unsigned.
“In the note verbale they must be specific [about] who is coming to visit, what is the person coming to do in South Africa or the purpose of the visit. Is he coming to meet the president or is he coming on a private visit?” Matjila explained.
However, Matjila said they had never received it and, surprisingly, “On the day when we were still waiting for the note verbale, that’s when during the course of the day we noticed that there was a plane landing in the base which was the Gupta plane.”
The plane belonged to the Gupta family, who landed a massive commercial aircraft at the base, carrying about 200 guests who were to attend a lavish wedding in Sun City. Only VIPs and VVIPs are allowed to land at the military base.
Instead of a note verbale, Matjila said he instead had a short conversation with Koloane on the phone, who gave no details of the visit, only that Matjila should assist the Indian delegation.
‘I realised this was not actually a state visit’
Thereafter, in conversations with Koloane’s PA, Matjila said he insisted that he get the note verbale, “as the PA is working at the state visit, she knows all the procedures… and I told her that if we are not in possession of the note verbale, there is nothing we can do”.
Shortly after this, Matjila received an email which read: “Dear William, as per your discussion with Ambassador Koloane with regards to the request for flight clearance and landing at the Waterkloof AFB for the Indian delegation, kindly note that Ambassador Koloane telephonically approved the request. Regards.”
He made it clear in his testimony that this correspondence was not a note verbale, but just an email confirmation.
It was at this point that something clicked for Matjila, and he realised that the flight was not a diplomatic visit. “After my director did not forward me the note verbale, that’s when I realised that this visit was not actually a state visit, and this might be a private visit,” he said.
On Wednesday, the commission heard testimony from Major Thabo Ntshisi, who also said he was unsatisfied with the clearance, but went ahead with processing the flight because it was a directive from Koloane who told him: “Go ahead with the request because it comes from the highest rank.”
The commission will continue with testimony relating to the Waterkloof landing, with acting director general of the Department of Military Veterans, Lieutenant General Derrick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi, set to testify.