Tag Archives: Zuma and the Guptas

South Africa the Guptas and the anti-Saxonwold revolt

Daily Maverick

Keeping Up With The Guptas: What’s behind the anti-Saxonwold revolt

  • Ranjeni Munusamy
    ranjeni munusami BW

  • South Africa
Photo: Atul Gupta, Jacob Zuma. (Jordi Matas)

Photo: Atul Gupta, Jacob Zuma. (Jordi Matas)

In an organisation where the Tambo, Mandela, Mbeki and Sisulu names were once revered, there is now only one family that holds power. For years, people have tried to figure out how the Gupta family is able to maintain their chokehold on the ANC and government despite rubbing so many people up the wrong way. Now a revolt is brewing against them in the ANC and the tripartite alliance. This revolt will probably not be able to halt the capture of the state by this powerful family and their business and political network, but it is a proxy battle over leadership in the ANC. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

It is amazing how it takes just one or two people in the ANC to speak up on an issue for others to find their voices. The Sunday Times reported this week that some of President Jacob Zuma’s closest allies in Cosatu and South African Communist Party (SACP) had spoken out about their growing irritation with the Gupta’s influence on senior leaders in the ANC and government. On Sunday, senior members of the ANC and the alliance, who ordinarily avoid the subject, were suddenly emboldened, declaring that “the fight is on”.

Of course it might take one photo-op between the president and his friends for them to eat their words, and the irritation to go back underground.

For years there have been mutterings in the ANC and the alliance about the Gupta contagion in the movement, particularly after some ministers found out about their appointments from members of the Gupta family rather than from Zuma in 2009. From then on, the Gupta family became more emboldened by every scandal rather than shirk away when their influence over the president and other high-ranking people in the state were exposed.

Zuma was warned by his intelligence heads about the Guptas undermining the integrity of the state and bullying state officials in order to influence the awarding of government contracts. Zuma opted to ignore the warnings, leading to a fallout with his trusted officials he had deployed to the intelligence services. Gibson Njenje, Moe Shaik and Jeff Maqetuka lost their jobs as a result.

The landing of a jet hired by the Guptas for a family wedding at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in April 2013 led to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe lashing out, saying the organisation “shall never allow a situation where our ports of entry and national key points are penetrated with impunity”. “The African National Congress will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the Republic, it’s citizens and its borders,” Mantashe said in a statement.

That is as strong a rebuke as you can get from the ANC headquarters, and there was an assumption that the episode would have severed the bond of friendship between Zuma and the Guptas. But as soon as the dust settled, the Guptas resumed summoning state officials to their Saxonwold home and making phone calls to the president in people’s presence to affirm his approval of their actions.

Zuma continued his visits to their family home and ministers continued their puppet dances at the Gupta-owned The New Age business breakfasts. After major ANC and state events, it is now the norm that the top six leaders of the ANC and Cabinet ministers attend The New Age breakfasts, with Zuma sitting alongside the family head, Atul Gupta.

Those in the ANC who were uncomfortable with the Gupta’s influence had to suck it up and deal with the fact that they had become the most powerful family in the ANC – it is the first time a family outside the struggle royalty, or any involvement in the liberation movement, or South Africa for that matter, has so much power.

The Guptas have been able to use their money and networks effectively to penetrate the centres of political influence. Some of their sympathisers argue that this is simply good business prowess and if their actions do amount to corruption, this should be excused as they are at least breaking the dominance of white business. The fact that the Guptas care less about South Africa’s racial dynamics or black empowerment is apparently beside the point.

But the Gupta family have now made themselves some powerful enemies, which could lead to a bloc in the ANC turning against them. The confluence between the Guptas and the “premier league”, a faction led by the premiers of North West, the Free State and Mpumalanga, as well as the ANC Youth League and Women’s League, has exposed the family as not only wanting to influence the awarding of contracts but also the succession battle in the ANC.

At October’s ANC national general council, the premier league’s campaign was denounced and premiers Ace Magashule, Supra Mahumapelo and David Mabuza denied that they were running a campaign to influence the 2017 ANC leadership elections. But the influence of the faction was felt first in the appointment of Mosebenzi Zwane as Mineral Resources Minister in September and then David van Rooyen as Finance Minister (for four days) in December. Both these ministers are believed to be under the thumb of the Guptas as nominees of Magashule and Mahumapelo respectively.

Of course nobody in the ANC and the alliance could openly express their reservations about these appointments in relation to the Gupta family because Cabinet posts are the sole prerogative of the president. However, Cosatu and the SACP have now set the ball rolling by confirming their concerns about the Guptas.

SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila told the Sunday Times he spoke out against the Guptas at last week’s ANC national executive committee lekgotla to show they will not tolerate “corporate capture of the government”.

“We felt we needed to raise it in a meeting because people have been speaking about this thing, hush hush, gossiping about it and sometimes it has been raised in order to attack the president.

“We have heard [of] the role of the Guptas and we wanted to tell them [NEC members] that they do not account to the Guptas. They account to the liberation movement, headed by the ANC and its government, and not to individual families… so they don’t feel scared that if the Guptas call them they have an obligation to go [to the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound] or they would be removed from government,” Mapaila told the Sunday Times.

Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini told the paper the federation was concerned about the Guptas’ perceived role in recent developments in the mining industry. This relates to Eskom buying coal for its Arnot power plant in Mpumalanga from a mine bought by a company controlled by the Guptas after a contract with Exxaro Resources Ltd. was not renewed. The sale of the Optimum Colliery was allegedly facilitated by Zwane, who flew to Zurich in December to meet the CEO of Glencore, which owned the mine.

Cosatu and the National Union of Mineworkers are up in arms about the deal because of the threats of retrenchment and closure of the Exxaro Arnot mine. At a media briefing at the end of the ANC lekgotla last week, Mantashe said the ANC could not get involved in the matter and it was up to the trade union movement to challenge the closure of the mine. He did not want to comment on the involvement of the Gupta family.

Earlier in January however, Mantashe said in an interview that the Guptas have not taken control of the ANC but have captured “individuals” in the party. He did not say who these individuals were. Mantashe told The Sowetan the problem was not the businesspeople but with ANC members who allowed businesspeople to use them. “I don’t blame the corporation that captured you. Actually I must focus on dealing with you as a proxy,” he said.

Now that the influence of the Guptas has been challenged and the battle for power in the ANC is out in the open, ANC and alliance leaders say a big fight is coming. Provinces opposed to the premier league and the SACP and Cosatu believe that they cannot sit back while there are clear attempts to manipulate the succession battle in the ANC. The SACP has been particularly agitated by the premier league’s efforts to have their senior leaders, Blade Nzimande and Rob Davies, booted out of the Cabinet.

The premier league faction, backed by the Guptas, is supporting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as their candidate for ANC president. While Cyril Ramaphosa has up to now not had a strong lobby behind him, opposition to the Gupta-premier league clique is uniting other provinces such as Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, as well as Cosatu and the SACP behind him. This faction might not be able to unravel the Gupta tentacles but there is now recognition that the end goal is to completely control the ANC and the state.

This will be difficult to undo once Zuma leaves office, so while there is concern about causing more damage to the president, levels of frustration are building in ANC and alliance structures. It is likely that as soon as the local government elections are over, the ANC succession battle will explode into the open.

Until then, the Guptas will continue to expand their empire, with South Africa’s nuclear build programme likely to deliver a big windfall. They are now heavily invested in the outcome of the ANC’s 2017 national conference, as is every faction that wants the wheel of fortune to swing their way.

This will be the ANC’s most high-stakes leadership race ever, heavily influenced, ironically, by a family that had no role whatsoever in the life and history of the 104-year-old organisation. DM


South Africa – who will take the fall for Guptagate?

Mail and Guardian

While investigations continue, it is clear that blaming the Indian High Commission may be harmful for relations between India and South Africa.

Indian high commissioner Virendra Gupta. (Supplied)
     Click here     

As investigations into how the Gupta family’s wedding entourage was allowed to land at the Waterkloof military base last week continue, with an outcome expected at the end of this week, attention has moved from Sun City to the corridors of power, as the country looks to its leaders for someone who will take the fall.

Weekend reports suggest Indian high commissioner Virendra Gupta might be blamed for the diplomatic scandal.

Meanwhile, analysts seem convinced that President Jacob Zuma will remain unharmed politically,  despite his close relationship with the Gupta family.

As the Mail & Guardian reported on Friday, the Gupta family seems safe from prosecution for now – in spite of former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s call to charge them with treason.

For political analyst and research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation Aubrey Matshiqi, Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas will not hurt him politically, unless the ANC becomes collateral damage at the polls. This despite  irritation shown by alliance members and some in the ANC at the closeness between the two families.

“But it does mean that history might judge the legacy of his presidency more harshly,” Matshiqi said.

Zuma issued a statement on Friday night, in the wake of a press conference that morning by his security cluster, promising that he was on top of the various investigations into the plane landing.

Blame shifted While Zuma has not publicly distanced himself from the Gupta family, he and his ministers have shifted the blame to those lower down the rungs, responsible for protocol and procedure.

The Indian commissioner maintained last week that he was merely following protocol during his involvement in the landing of the plane, and a source close to him told the M&G that Virendra Gupta was merely the “middle-man”.

Central to the rumours that Gupta will take the fall for the incident is the question: did he act on the presumption that the plane carried an Indian diplomatic mission, or did he know that the passengers were part of a private party?

A chartered Gupta family jet made an unauthorised landing at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, a national key point, on Tuesday. It was carrying guests to the wedding of Vega Gupta (23) and Aakash Jahajgarhia. The jet was moved off the base on Thursday afternoon, amid widespread criticism.

Whether Virendra Gupta is actually a Gupta of the infamous kind is unclear, although he appears to be unconnected to any of the family’s businesses, and a source says he is annoyed by the question. He is a seasoned diplomat, having served as the Indian high commissioner to Spain and Dar es Salaam. He also served as a rapporteur for the United Nations special committee against apartheid.

Under his watch, relations and trade between the two countries have warmed, and he is said to be agnostic to the Gupta family’s status in South Africa. If he is recalled by his own government, that would be one thing, but for the South Africans to request his removal could see relations between the two country take a frosty turn.

‘Diplomatic disaster’ President Jacob Zuma sought to ease diplomatic tensions in a statement on Friday evening. He urged that the investigations into the landing should not negatively affect the warm relationship between South Africa and India “which go back to the very beginning of our respective struggles against colonialism and apartheid”.

Virendra Gupta was called to a meeting with the department of international relations and cooperation soon after it came to learn of the Waterkloof landing.

Despite rumours that he will be recalled, this is an unlikely scenario, and would be a “diplomatic disaster” for South Africa, the source said.

In a statement, the Gupta family said they were“assured” by the Indian High Commission that proper processes had been followed in granting the request to land. It is possible that after the representative from Gupta-owned Sahara Computers’ request to land at Waterkloof was denied by the South African National Defence Force; that an attempt was made to paint the flight as a mere diplomatic mission.

Said the source: “It’s possible that someone from India, say, the foreign affairs ministry, requested help from the Indian High Commission to arrange for the plane to land at Waterkloof. It’s possible they said this plane was carrying Indian dignitaries, and it would not have been out of step for the commissioner to make a request on this basis.”

It is not clear whether or not the high commission were acting under the understanding that this was a plane full of passengers arriving in their private capacity. But it appears, from the Gupta’s statement, that the successful request for help was relayed back to the family, and not to the Indian government.

Suspensions and questions And indeed, a plane carrying a handful of low-flying Indian government officials and their entourage landed at Waterkloof last week. But whether or not permission was granted for the landing, by whom, and with the knowledge that this was a delegation of Zuma’s influential friends, remains unknown.

From a press briefing hosted by the security cluster on Friday, it is clear that a request for the plane to land came from the high commission to the department of international relations’ Bruce Koloane, the chief of state protocol who has been summarily suspended. It was Koloane who allegedly contacted the air force base at Waterkloof.

A statement from Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said: “The office of the chief of the state protocol dealt with the request from the Indian High Commissioner directly to the Air Force Base without consultation with the chief of the SANDF, the chief of the air force and the ministry.”

Five officials have been suspended, including Koloane, and a further three have been arrested. An investigation by various departments is underway, with an outcome expected this Friday.

The family, meanwhile, remains apologetic about the entire affair.

For Matshiqi, anger within the ruling alliance about the Gupta’s influence has been brewing for some time. “But this time, it’s as if the Guptas went too far. Not only did they compromise the integrity of the ANC and Zuma, but they compromised the integrity of the country,” he said.

But the source at the Indian High Commission said this week that this influence did not extend to Virendra Gupta.

“The commissioner treats the Guptas cordially but he’s agnostic about their status. He would not have gone to bat for that family, but for him to be asked to assist a group of travelling Indian dignitaries with landing at Waterkloof would have been another day at the office,” the source said.

The politically-connected Guptas own the New Age newspaper and Sahara Computers, along with several other businesses.

The Indian High Commissioner, through his office, was unable to take questions. The M&G was unable to reach the Indian foreign affairs ministry.