The department of home affairs said yesterday it might investigate whether the passengers that flew to Harare breached national lockdown rules.
Home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi instructed his officials to conduct the probe on Thursday — each day after the ANC delegation landed back at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria.
The investigation was confirmed by Motsoaledi’s spokesperson, Siya Qoza, yesterday. “The minister is unable to completely answer your questions at this stage because the matter remains under internal investigation within the department,” said Qoza.
It is unclear what proportion Ramaphosa knew about the visit, which was discussed at a gathering fortnight ago of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) at which he took a tough line on looting of state resources.
Ramaphosa broke his silence on Friday night, demanding a report from defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, whose plane the ANC leaders, led by secretary-general Ace Magashule, wont to get to Harare.
The party denied that hitching a ride on the plane was an abuse of taxpayer funds, and claimed the visit was within the national interest, but it’s emerged that the delegation didn’t apply for permission to go away the country, which is strictly controlled under lockdown regulations.
And the requirement that they quarantine for 10 days after travelling abroad was also ignored by several of them. Social media pictures showed a member of the delegation, social development minister Lindiwe Zulu, allegedly socialising just days after the trip.
Two of the leaders on the trip chose to self-quarantine.
The incident has embarrassed Ramaphosa’s government, with critics slamming it as a blatant abuse of power and state resources by his party.
The incident happened under the nose of Ramaphosa’s all-powerful National Coronavirus
Command Council, the structure that advises the cupboard on measures to require to contain Covid-19, and whose decrees have put many thousands of South Africans at odds with the law, and left them facing action within the courts.
Under level 2, the country’s borders remain closed and ordinary citizens like Magashule, who doesn’t hold a government post, can travel out of the country only after obtaining permission from authorities do so.
It appears the move to mount the military jet may have exploited a loophole to avoid the executive paperwork required by the department of transport.
What is also bound to fuel criticism of the trip is that the revelation that the meeting between Mapisa-Nqakula and Zimbabwe ’s defence & war veterans minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, didn’t last even an hour.
Mapisa-Nqakula is listed as an ANC delegate on the list of tourists , though a defence spokesperson claimed in the week that the rationale for her visit to Zimbabwe was for scheduled discussions as a part of Southern African Development Community business.
A Luthuli House insider, conversant in discussions within the ANC top six, said the trip was discussed at a gathering of the party’s top officials, including Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa’s acting spokesperson, Tyrone Seale, wouldn’t say yesterday whether Ramaphosa knew the ANC delegation had planned to hitch a ride on a state plane.
He only confirmed that Ramaphosa had granted permission for Mapisa-Nqakula to visit Zimbabwe. Asked directly whether the president knew about the arrangement with Magashule and his team, Seale undertook to seek out out. He didn’t answer further calls and messages.
Members of the ANC delegation who the Sunday Times approached for comment wouldn’t say if they received permission to travel. Magashule declined to comment and referred inquiries to Mapisa-Nqakula’s office. He did, however, insist that he didn’t believe that his delegation had abused state resources.
Zulu declined to discuss whether she had received permission to travel. She referred queries to the defence department.
She posted an image with Kaizer Chiefs football club manager Bobby Motaung on her Instagram page on Friday, raising suspicions that she wasn’t self-isolating as needed by level 2 regulations. Although the image was posted on Friday, it’s not known when it had been taken.
Top ANC official and former minister Nomvula Mokonyane said the trip was organised by Luthuli House.
“I was called as a part of a delegation of the ANC, so everything that was organised for the trip was done through the ANC … the department of diplomacy of the ANC has been the one that was responsible,”
The ANC and therefore the government should be answering questions, she said.
“I am not saying there was never a requirement [to apply for a permit], all those details were organised through the ANC.”
Mokonyane is neither in quarantine nor self-isolating after the trip, and told the Sunday Times during her telephonic interview that she was going into a store.
Enoch Godongwana, head of the NEC subcommittee on economic transformation, said he had received a call for participation from Magashule to visit Harare.
He said he was now quarantining reception “as we speak”.
ANC spokesperson Dakota Legoete also said he was quarantining. He didn’t respond when asked whether he had permission to travel and work outside the country.
By hitching with Mapisa-Nqakul on an SANDF flight, the ANC delegation escaped complying with international regulations.
According to the extent 2 regulations, flights can only leave the country with the permission of transport minister Fikile Mbalula.
But consistent with Ayanda-Allie Paine, Mbalula’s spokesperson, this regulation doesn’t reach South African National defense aircraft. Home affairs minister Motsoaledi also has the authority to allow entry or exit from the country.
In terms of the Defence Act, MapisaNqakula can authorise the conveyance of personal citizens in consultation with minister of finance Tito Mboweni.
The Defence Act provides that “if it’s within the public interest, or within the case of an emergency, the minister [of defence] after consultation with the minister of finance, may authorise the conveyance of a person who isn’t a politician or employee of the state acting within the execution of his or her duty intrinsically , or any goods belonging to such person, by means of any vehicle, aircraft or vessel belonging to the department”.
Mboweni’s spokesperson, Mashudu Masutha, declined to comment yesterday, and referred inquiries to the presidency.
Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini wouldn’t say whether the senior ANC members had the specified permission to travel under level 2, referring that question to the party.
He said the incident wasn’t a standard occurrence.
“One has got to check out the circumstances under which it happened during this period and time of the challenges that have an immediate impact on South Africa ,” he said.
DA MP Kobus Marais said Mapisa-Nqakula usually travels within the air force’s Falcon 550, which may take up to eight people.
This time around she used the Falcon 900, which may take up to 18 people. the value of travelling during this plane may be a lot higher.
“On the opposite side we’ve got a defense and air force whose budgets are move the bone, to the extent that the flying hours are being restricted and are reduced,” Marais said.
International relations spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said his department wasn’t involved in processing the ANC delegation.
“We don’t do this in terms of the ANC [share a note verbale, or diplomatic communication, with the host country]; it had been party to party, the ANC made its own arrangements.
“As a rustic we aren’t involved, people are allowed to travel as they want … it’s a personal matter that involves nongovernmental organisations,” said Ngqengelele.