(JUBA) – An investigation by The Sentry, an NGO co-founded by actor George Clooney that tracks dirty money connected to conflicts in Africa has revealed that a South African aviation firm, Vukani Aviation formed a joint venture with the National Security Service (NSS) — South Sudan’s secret police in 2014.
The firm, Vukani Aviation, was led by Nhlanhla Dube, a man who claimed to be the “commander of the presidential jet” during former South African president Jacob Zuma’s tenure, and who has previously flown Thabo Mbeki.
31% of the joint venture company was held by Obuto Mamur Mete, South Sudan’s minister for national security, who is one of South Sudan’s most feared men.
As part of this arrangement, Vukani agreed to operate a charter plane and two helicopters in South Sudan.
Nhlanhla Dube, 51, is no stranger to scandal, according to reports by the South African Mail and Guardian. Shortly after the Vukani Aviation’s company’s incorporation in 2014, claims surfaced that he used political connections to unduly secure several grants worth millions to train black cadets.
His flight school, the South Africa Flight Training Academy (SAFTA), was eventually shut down by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) following a site visit to the centre.
Before the visit, several incidents, including near-crash landings and complaints from students and employees about the state of the aircraft, had led to increased scrutiny from opposition politicians in Parliament who also raised concern about how Dube accessed grants to train students and whether he was misappropriating funds and equipment meant for the school for his own personal use.
Dube’s former colleagues at South African Airways (SAA), including two pilots, expressed little surprise that he would be implicated in another controversy, with one saying he often boasted about being close to Zuma when he was an airforce pilot and part of the crew that flew the presidential jet.
“I think that guy is flying for the Swati king nowadays … He’s on contract in Eswatini and is based there,” another said.
The Mail & Guardian reports Dube could not be reached on two numbers, but his former directors in the South African-based Vukani Aviation — who were also listed as contact people in the South Sudan organisation’s incorporation papers — Cynthia Radebe and Donovan Foley sought to distance themselves from the partnership.
Radebe said she left Vukani in 2015, whereas Foley insisted he went to South Sudan as an employee and refused to comment any further.