‘Guptas wanted OR Tambo welcome bash’

The aircraft that brought the Guptas’ wedding guests to Waterkloof Air Force Base
The aircraft that brought the Guptas’ wedding guests to Waterkloof Air Force Base
Image: Waldo Swiegers

Rajesh “Tony” Gupta met former transport minister Ben Martins and officials of the Airports Company SA (Acsa) to request a welcoming party on the tarmac at OR Tambo International Airport for guests flying in for the Gupta family’s lavish Sun City wedding.

Gupta’s request was turned down and the family‚ only months later, in April 2013‚ landed a privately chartered Jet Airways plane at Waterkloof Air Force Base.

This is according to state capture-implicated former cabinet member Martins who, in a brief appearance before the Zondo inquiry on Tuesday, denied facilitating the Guptas’ controversial landing at the military base.

He also rubbished claims that he put pressure on the former CEO of rail agency Prasa, Lucky Montana, to intervene in a locomotive tender to favour the Gupta family.

Martins was transport minister between June 2012 and June 2013.

“No-one approached me on the Waterkloof landing issue,” Martins told the commission.

“The first time I was aware in regard to the Waterkloof landing was when an official of the Air Traffic Navigation Services called me to say the plane had entered SA air space without a requisite permit.

“I received [the call] . . . after the plane had landed and while the wedding proceedings were on.

“I did not receive any instructions from former president Jacob Zuma to assist in that regard.

“I did not give anyone instructions to allow the landing.”

He remembered a call he received in February that year from then acting Acsa chief executive Bongani Maseko‚ who explained that Gupta had made a request to hold a reception alongside an OR Tambo runway for wedding guests he intended to fly to the wedding from India.

“I think sometime in February an approach was made by members of the Gupta family to Acsa‚ seeking permission to land at OR Tambo airport.

Martins attended a meeting with Maseko‚ Gupta and former head of state protocol Bruce Koloane at the Intercontinental Hotel near the airport.

At the meeting‚ Gupta reiterated his request.

“I explained that OR Tambo‚ being such a busy airport, it would not be possible and it would not be feasible to have a welcoming reception.

“My decision was that we could not grant that permission.

“I did not have the authority to do so because the authority governing there is the department of home affairs‚” Martins said.

“Tony’s reaction was that ‘are you really denying guests of the president [then Zuma] and the friends of the president the opportunity to have this welcoming ceremony there?’ ”