Smanga Kumalo and Beeld — The SA National Defence Force denied on Friday a report that former president Nelson Mandela’s medical staff was on board the military aircraft that crashed in the Drakensberg near Ladysmith on Wednesday.
“There is no truth in that as far as I know,” SANDF head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini said. Neither did he want to entertain claims that Mandela’s medical team refused to board the plane out of safety fears. These claims were made in a statement by the SA Security Forces Union (Sasfu), a trade union which was deregistered by the defence department last year.
It is believed the plane which was en route to Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, was allowed to fly in the severe weather conditions because Mandela’s medicine was on board.
The aircraft went missing en route to Mthatha after it took off from Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria on Wednesday. It was expected to land in Mthatha at 10:00. After no communication from the aircraft, the SAAF activated a search and rescue mission but severe weather conditions in the area hindered the operation.
Eleven people, including six SA Air Force members, died when the Dakota aircraft crashed. The wreckage was located in the Drakensberg mountains on Thursday morning. The names of the deceased will be withheld until all the members of the family have been duly informed and given the necessary respect. The SANDF would release the list of names and give details once all the families had been informed.
According to Beeld newspaper, Sasfu claimed that Mandela’s medical staff was supposed to have been on the plane, but safety fears stopped them from boarding.
“The aircraft that crashed has had technical problems previously that have been reported by the medical staff who are taking care of Mr Mandela in Umthatha.” Sasfu said in a statement.
Dlamini said the claims were false, that the plane had been overhauled and that it was basically a “new plane”.