John Scott Masthead
March 15 2012 at 11:06

Embarrassment is a terrible thing when you have to admit to the public what your government department has done when everybody knows what it has done even before you admit it.

So who can blame Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu for gagging her SA Air Force chief just as he was about to the spill the beans all over again?

Thus it is that only parliamentarians may hear (but not the public or the media) how President Jacob Zuma needed the deployment of four aircraft and 10 flights just to get to a UN Security Council meeting in New York.

That was when an SAA Airbus flew alongside the president’s Boeing Business Jet, the Inkwazi, to Las Palmas, to keep it company, while another plane, a Bombardier Global Express, that had flown direct to New York from Joburg, waited to “shadow” the president back to Las Palmas and then on to Joburg.

Meanwhile, an Airbus had flown a relief crew from Frankfurt to Las Palmas to fly the other Airbus also back to Joburg.

As Ms Sisulu implied, it was all very “sensitive”.

Especially when millions of taxpayers’ money is being used to double up on presidential flights, in case the president’s plane breaks down. Heaven forbid that it should break down in mid-Atlantic.

Not even a shadow aircraft could do much about that, other than to drop a presidential life raft and emergency supplies.

At what may now be a secret parliamentary oversight committee, the minister, who doesn’t particularly like answering to Parliament in any case, would probably have to listen to Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano explaining how, on a previous trip to |the UN last year, Zuma was flown by two mercenary pilots who had been convicted for attempting to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea in 2004.

That’s pretty embarrassing, too. It might have been classified information had not one of the pilots, Neil Steyl, been totally open about the flight. He said very few pilots were qualified to fly this specific Boeing 727, “and with no one in the air force able to, I was hired”.

He found the president to be “a very pleasant person and a good passenger. He didn’t complain about anything and I don’t think he even cared about who was flying him.”

Praise indeed, coming from a ex-con.

Then there was the embarrassment about Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe not even reaching Finland after being invited there because the air force’s chartered aircraft never got beyond Pretoria. How can the media possibly be allowed to listen to a repeat of this stuff?

Who knows, Gagiano might also repeat his claim, made after an annual Air Force Day fly-past was cancelled because of budgetary restraints, that unless more money was available, “very few aircraft will fly”.

So all this may now be part of a secret briefing, to ensure that no red faces are publicly visible.

Acting national police chief Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi is in the same embarrassing boat. Everyone now knows that 27 329 police officers failed their firearms test, so the general has decided to rectify the situation by firing the entire internal audit team who compiled the report unless the member who released the figures owns up.

That will teach them to embarrass the government with the facts.


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