Dynasty beefs with Gigaba as airport spat takes nasty turn

04 December 2016 - 12:26 By Stephan Hofstatter
Despite a massive visa disaster that severely damaged tourism, Malusi Gigaba has taken no responsibility.
Despite a massive visa disaster that severely damaged tourism, Malusi Gigaba has taken no responsibility.
Image: ALON SKUY

The Oppenheimers want Gigaba to grant international status to the seven-star luxury terminal that Fireblade, their aviation company, built at OR Tambo

The Oppenheimer family has accused Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba of being captured by the Guptas after he rejected an application to use its private airport for international flights.

The accusation is contained in new papers the Oppenheimers served on Gigaba this week to review and set aside his decision. Their latest move has ramped up the stakes in their battle over control of a seven-star private international terminal at OR Tambo International Airport that would service the ultra-rich.

Gigaba has launched a blistering counterattack.

Through Mayihlome Tshwete, his spokesman, he has branded the allegations "borderline racist", accusing the Oppenheimers of throwing him "under a convenient Gupta bus" when he refused to be forced into granting them permission to run their own international airport.

The Guptas could not respond to the Oppenheimers' latest allegations because efforts to obtain the court papers "were unsuccessful", said Gert van der Merwe, their lawyer, yesterday.

"The rights of the family, including the right to respond when furnished with a complete set of papers, remain firmly reserved."

The Oppenheimers want Gigaba to grant international status to the seven-star luxury terminal that Fireblade, their aviation company, built at OR Tambo.

This would allow foreign dignitaries and celebrities to go through customs and immigration at the Oppenheimer facility without using the main building.

Fireblade says Gigaba's approval is vital for financial viability.

After a year of toing and froing, the Oppenheimers appeared to have won Gigaba's support. At a minuted meeting on January 28, attached to Fireblade's affidavit, Gigaba told the Oppenheimers he'd signed a letter of approval for their facility. The meeting was attended by Nicky Oppenheimer and two Fireblade representatives, as well as four senior home affairs officials, including Gigaba and his acting chief of staff.

On October 27, Gigaba made a U-turn and wrote to say he'd rejected the Oppenheimer application.

His decision was mostly based on security concerns raised by landlord Denel, his objection to an international port of entry being reserved for private use, and the need for public consultation.

"There may be other commercial firms who may want to provide the exact same service, perhaps at rates that are more favourable to the state," Gigaba wrote.

"In the light of the above I regrettably wish to inform you that I do not accede to your request."

This week the Oppenheimers hit back at Gigaba, accusing him of relying on "baseless objections" to reject their application. They argued through their lawyers, Werksmans, that his decision was irrational, procedurally unfair and based on errors in law.

A lengthy paper trail of memos, MoUs, e-mails, letters and minutes stretching back three years, attached to court papers, show that the Oppenheimers had addressed all Denel's security concerns and received the necessary approvals through the Border Control Operational Co-ordinating Committee.

The committee comprises officials of the State Security Agency, home affairs, transport, public works, agriculture, health and defence, as well as the police and the South African Revenue Service.

In their papers, the Oppenheimers accuse the Guptas of having "designs on securing an interest" in their airport and exerting pressure on Denel to induce Gigaba to reject their application.

"The Denel objections amount to illegitimate demands of a third party," Werksmans wrote to Gigaba.

A supplementary affidavit filed this week by Fireblade director Robbie Irons suggests this amounts to Gigaba being captured by the Guptas.

"The grounds on which revocation and refusal were said to be based do not bear scrutiny and the minister did not endeavour to dispel the Gupta-created impression that he is in their grip," he said.

In his founding affidavit filed last month, Irons detailed how two Gupta pilots had spilt the beans on the Guptas' attempts to wrest control of the luxury terminal from the Oppenheimers.

Denel denied that any of its directors had been pressured by the Guptas, who also denied the allegations.

Tshwete said the Oppenheimers were "deliberately trying to feed into this silly idea that all black ministers are captured".

He added: "It's an easy accusation to make of any black person in government. It's nonsensical. It's offensive. It's a borderline racist accusation." He declined to comment on the merits of the case because "the matter is sub judice".

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