The proposed purchase of a new Boeing 777-200 jet for President Jacob Zuma will not go ahead, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Friday.
Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said there was no deal to buy the luxury airliner for President Jacob Zuma, only an offer of such an aircraft from the American company which had lapsed on June 15.
Ms Mapisa-Nqakula's statement is a clear attempt to put out the fires raging around news reports that two luxury aircraft were to have been bought before the cancellation of the procurement process when former defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu left the department last month.
There was also an indication that something was amiss in the way in which government went about acquiring the aircraft, as Ms Sisulu followed up Democratic Alliance (DA) MP David Maynier's complaint to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela with a request of her own that the procurement process be investigated.
Mr Maynier had accused Ms Sisulu of negotiating a backdoor deal to buy the aircraft before she was "fired" from her post.
"The former minister turned the defence department into a state within a state and refused to disclose any information on capital acquisition projects including the acquisition of 'VIP aircraft' for the South African Air Force," he said.
"However, the chickens are now coming home to roost as the rot, which set in under the former minister, is being exposed.
"We now know: the defence department is in the process of acquiring a Boeing 777-200 LR business jet for President Zuma as well as a Bombardier Global Express 6000 for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe; the acquisition was proceeding after the executive approved the purchase of four new 'VIP aircraft' for the South African Air Force."
Ms Mapisa-Nqakula repeatedly stonewalled questions about who at defence had been driving the process to buy the aircraft for more than R2bn, saying only that Ms Madonsela's investigation should be given an opportunity to run its course.
She did come out in defence of defence secretary Sam Gulube, saying he was in the US and Canada last week on a fact-finding mission that had been planned a long time ago and was not there to conclude a deal for the purchase of the Boeing 777.
Ms Mapisa-Nqakula did acknowledge that an R86m deposit had been paid for the Boeing 777 but said this was wholly refundable because no contract had been signed and the offer had lapsed. She said when Boeing found that it had a 777 available, it had offered it to South Africa on condition a deposit be paid while the offer was being considered.
She stressed that the current procurement process had been cancelled and that a new process would be started after consultations with the air force on the specifications needed by them for a VVIP aircraft.
The new procurement process would not necessarily wait for the completion of the public protector's investigation.