Media briefing on private visit to South Africa by President of United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his entourage
Good afternoon and welcome to the media representatives who have joined us for this briefing, and to the audiences following this engagement on various platforms.
I am pleased to introduce a panel of Ministers who are here today to provide clarity on the services and facilitation government put in place to facilitate the current private visit to South Africa by the President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and his entourage.
Joining me today are:
Minister of Home Affairs Dr Aaron Motsoaledi
Minister of Agriculture Ms Thoko Didiza
Minister of Police Gen Bheki Cele
Minister of Transport Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga
Minister of Defence Ms Thoko Modise
Acting Premier of the Eastern Cape Mr Xolile Nqatha who is also the MEC for Transport in the Province, and
Mr Cassius Sinthumule, Head of Air Modalities in the South African Revenue Service, with responsibility for airports
We have convened this media briefing to provide context to the private visit by the President of the United Arab Emirates, to whom government extended a number of courtesies that form part of our diplomatic engagement with all countries and our hosting of eminent persons.
Public discussion on the visit by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and his entourage has generated a range of insinuation that suggested that something improper unfolded in the Eastern Cape’s preparation for this visit by a prestigious guest to our country.
We are here today to share with the nation that this visit has been made possible with the diligence and integrity required of government as we interact with people from all walks of life, including persons of the standing of the UAE President.
South Africans are right to be vigilant about such matters but our vigilance should not make us jump to the worst assumptions and conclusions about our country or this administration.
FORMAL, ADVANCE NOTIFICATION OF THE VISIT
The visit by the President of the United Arab Emirates was preceded by formal diplomatic correspondence from the UAE Government to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
This formal correspondence sets out the intention of the President of the UAE to visit South Africa in his private capacity, and indicated that he would be accompanied by a large entourage, and that the President would be domiciled at a game reserve the President owns in the Eastern Cape.
This correspondence reflects the respect shown and care taken by the President of the UAE in informing South Africa of the planned visit and allowing us to make the necessary arrangements in good time.
The formal correspondence on the visit set in motion South Africa’s preparation to extend to the President and his entourage courtesies and services in line with the internationally practised hosting provisions that countries offer Heads of State or Government and other dignitaries on a mutual basis.
Part of the preparation for the President’s visit to the Eastern Cape was the issuing by the Department of Home Affairs of visas to members of the entourage who needed visas to enter South Africa. Other members of the entourage carried passports from countries with whom South Africa has visa-free travel agreements.
This means the department can account for every one of the visitors accompanying the President.
It is common for Heads of State and Government to visit South Africa privately, including for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment.
With such visits, the governments concerned will formally draw the attention of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to the planned visits.
This advance notice allows departments and agencies of government to prepare for the delivery of their obligations.
These obligations include a range of services and responsibilities, including the security of a Head of State.
When such private visits take place, there is no requirement for public announcements about these occasions. Very often, Heads of State undertake such visits to enjoy privacy away from their public roles and profiles of high visibility.
Of course, different conditions apply where leaders visit South Africa in their official capacity and where State Visits take place, government consistently makes public announcements on these engagements.
Upon the landing of the UAE flight, the Department of Transport processed the application for landing requests through the normal channels for such requests.
In considering the request, the Department took note that the Chicago Convention exempts state aircraft from international standards under this Convention.
However, despite the exemption, such aircraft remain subject to domestic regulations when operating at any civilian airport.
Compliance with aviation safety prescription was another key consideration we took into account, which required the necessary exemptions and approvals from the South African Civil Aviation Authority which is the regulator of civil aviation.
We also granted landing permits based on the fact that the airport was compliant for that operation, having considered requisite approval by the Department of Home Affairs.
The Department of Transport therefore is therefore satisfied that our laws have been followed to the letter in granting the necessary exemptions and approvals.
Based on the formal correspondence directed to South Africa by the United Arab Emirates, a range of government departments and agencies that are normally part of such undertakings implemented a range of support services.
The Minister of Home Affairs received an application to consider designation of Bulembo Airport in Bhisho as a place of entry by His Highness and his entourage.
Upon receipt of the request from the Eastern Cape, the Minister of Home Affairs considered all documents and granted the request, and declared the airport as a temporary port of entry.
Bhisho Airport is wholly owned and operated by the Eastern Cape Provincial Government through the Department of Transport.
Upon the arrival of the entourage, immigration services were rendered and all the visitors, including His Highness, were in possession of the requisite visas. Some of the visitors only produced valid passports as they came from countries from which visas are not required.
As the visit involved international protocols and security, members of the South African Police Service ("SAPS'), South African Revenue Services ("SARS") Customs officials and officials of other relevant departments performed their respective statutory duties upon the arrival of the entourage.
As the entourage departs, immigration services and all other relevant officials will be expected to provide similar services.
SARS has been present on site at Bulembu Airport near Bhisho since the commencement of the visit.
SARS dispatched Customs officers including members of its dog detector unit and senior Customs managers to ensure compliance with Customs formalities.
Upon receipt of information that the Head of State of the UAE was visiting the Eastern Cape, all security measures necessary for Heads of State were put in place, for example, Presidential protectors and visibility. This is the case with all such visits.
Even though this visit is private, we have taken this step of sharing details with the nation because of the unfortunate and uninformed speculation we have seen around this visit, and which sought to foment suspicion about the visiting President and his entourage and about South Africa’s management of this occasion.
Public discussion on the visit by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and his entourage has generated a range of insinuation that suggested that something improper unfolded in the Eastern Cape’s preparation for this visit by a prestigious guest to our country. None of this is true.
South Africa welcomes the personal visit to the Eastern Cape by the President of the United Arab Emirates, whose interest in and enjoyment of our country is an important endorsement of our country’s attractiveness as a destination and partner for investment, trade and tourism.
Given the United Arab Emirates’ outstanding performance as a global investment and tourism in its own right, South Africa and the Eastern Cape stand to gain from continuous engagement with the UAE which is also a source of outbound investment around the world.
The hosting of the UAE President has conformed to international diplomatic standards and is fully compliant with South African laws.