Gi­gaba vs Op­pen­heimers

Min­is­ter goes to court to stop wealthy family hav­ing port of en­try

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - LUYOLO MKENTANE @luy­olomken­tane

ONE OF South Africa’s rich­est fam­i­lies want a VIP port of en­try into the coun­try at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port, but Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba has said any agree­ment by his depart­ment to the plan would be “ir­ra­tional”.

This was ac­cord­ing to le­gal pa­pers ex­pected to be filed at the high court in Pre­to­ria to­day, re­spond­ing to ac­cu­sa­tions by the Op­pen­heimers that Gi­gaba is try­ing to scup­per their ini­tia­tive.

The min­is­ter’s le­gal coun­sel was due to file the le­gal pa­pers be­tween 10am and 3pm on why the min­istry was against grant­ing the Op­pen­heimer-owned avi­a­tion com­pany, Fire­blade, per­mis­sion to con­trol a state-of-the-art in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal at the air­port.

In court doc­u­ments, the wealthy family re­port­edly claimed to have ob­tained ap­proval for their in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal from 27 state en­ti­ties, and were merely await­ing ap­proval from Gi­gaba to de­clare it a new port of en­try.

In an af­fi­davit, which The Star has seen, the min­is­ter ar­gues that the re­quest fell out­side the scope of the Im­mi­gra­tion Act. Gi­gaba states that he does not have the power to des­ig­nate a port of en­try out­side that con­tem­plated by sec­tion 9A of the Im­mi­gra­tion Act, and that such a de­ci­sion would be “ir­ra­tional”.

The govern­ment would have also coughed up R3 mil­lion to de­clare the ter­mi­nal a port of en­try. The min­is­ter ex­pressed doubt as to whether the law per­mit­ted a pri­vate en­tity to cover the costs.

Fire­blade, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, built the ter­mi­nal on premises leased from arms man­u­fac­turer Denel. It opened for do­mes­tic flights in 2014 and was yet to be granted in­ter­na­tional rights.

The ter­mi­nal re­port­edly boasts VIP suites, board­rooms and a mas­sage spa, among other fa­cil­i­ties, and was in­tended to serve in­ter­na­tional flights to make it prof­itable. The idea was for lo­cal and for­eign dig­ni­taries and celebri­ties to be whisked through im­mi­gra­tion and cus­toms, and have their jets parked in Fire­blade’s hangars.

Ac­cord­ing to Gi­gaba’s af­fi­davit, Fire­blade’s court chal­lenge was tan­ta­mount to re­quest­ing the min­is­ter to use “pub­lic power to priv­i­lege and ben­e­fit a pri­vate cit­i­zen to the ex­clu­sion of all oth­ers”. Speaking ex­clu­sively to The Star, a govern­ment of­fi­cial said the Op­pen­heimers, who made their bil­lions on the back of di­a­mond min­ing, were ef­fec­tively calling on the govern­ment to give them the right to uni­lat­er­ally de­cide who came in and out of the coun­try.

“What they are ask­ing for is un­eth­i­cal. It’s just not right. That sovereignty is re­served for the gov­ern­ments,” the of­fi­cial said.

The Op­pen­heimers’ re­quest seemed to have spurred another bil­lion­aire, Sho­prite’s for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive Whitey Bas­son, to have his own port of en­try at Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

In a let­ter to Gi­gaba in July last year, which The Star has seen, Bas­son asked the min­is­ter to ex­pe­dite the process. “We want the court rul­ing to set a prece­dent that South Africa won’t sur­ren­der its sovereignty to the high­est bid­der,” said the govern­ment of­fi­cial, who de­scribed the huge amount of pres­sure al­legedly put on Gi­gaba by the Op­pen­heimers in the pe­riod lead­ing up to last year’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions.

The min­is­ter was then ac­cused of be­ing al­legedly in­flu­enced by Denel, which has links to VR Laser Asia, a com­pany headed by Gupta family as­so­ciate Salim Essa.

Gi­gaba’s spokesper­son May­ihlome Tsh­wete said yes­ter­day: “We find the at­tack on the min­is­ter’s in­tegrity un­for­tu­nate, es­pe­cially when it’s not ev­i­dence-based. There’s a grow­ing nar­ra­tive that if you don’t agree with some­one, you’re cap­tured. The min­is­ter’s view is that ports of en­try should be for all South Africans. He’s will­ing to talk to any family to im­prove our ports of en­try.”

He slammed the “un­due pres­sure” put on the min­is­ter by the Op­pen­heimers, say­ing if it was put by what main­stream me­dia deemed to be close ANC as­so­ciates, “the mat­ter would have re­ceived huge me­dia cov­er­age. But be­cause it’s done by a more ac­cept­able cap­i­tal power, it’s le­git­imised”.

Sho­prite com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager Mandy Janke had not re­sponded to ques­tions emailed to her. At­tempts to get com­ment from the Op­pen­heimers were un­suc­cess­ful.

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