Row over Indian origin family using SA air base

Durban, May 1 (IANS) A controversy has erupted over the use of an air force base in South Africa for a wedding of a prominent Indian origin family.

The influential Gupta family, with interests in information technology and media, flew in guests Tuesday for the May 2 wedding of a family member to the Waterkloof air force base near Pretoria, drawing sharp reactions from various sections, according to local media.

The bride Vega Gupta is the daughter of Achla Gupta, the only sister of the three Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – who own the huge Sahara Group in South Africa. The groom is Aakash Jahajgarhia from New Delhi, India.

The family has booked the entire five-star hotel Palace of the Lost City in Sun City for the wedding.

According to reports, 300 guests, including some political leaders from India, were flown in in a chartered aircraft, which landed at the Watercloof air force base Tuesday. The aircraft is an A330-200 of Indian carrier Jet Airways.

As news of the aircraft’s landing broke out, messages of outrage poured in.

Condemning the use of the air base, African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe demanded to know who gave the permission to the Guptas.

“Those who cannot account must be brought to book. The ANC will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the republic, its citizens and its borders,” reports quoted Mantashe as saying.

The Guptas are known to be close to South African president Jacob Zuma.

Congress of South African Trade Unions’ spokesperson Zwelenzima Vavi said this was something unheard of in the country’s 19 years of democracy.

“Some family with not a single scar to show for a struggle for democracy now using national key point for wedding. This is just a scandal,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, India’s deputy high commissioner to South Africa, Armstrong Changsan, was quoted as saying that the high commission had asked for and received permission from the South African authorities to land the chartered aircraft because some Indian government officials were on board.

But the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), under whom the air base falls, said it was not aware of any permission being given to the Guptas to use it.

“It is a military base and a national key point used by the government and its guests. Let them (Guptas) tell you who they got the permission from and (ask) that they show it to you,” a SANDF spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the country’ defence ministry said it was waiting for the defence minister, who is in Ethiopia, to return before releasing an official statement on the issue.

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