Gigaba vs Oppenheimers
Minister goes to court to stop wealthy family having port of entry
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.