BOOK REVIEW: The Republic of Gupta is a good thriller, nothing more
The Republic of Gupta book reminds you of maniacal little men who pull you deeper into the dark instead of showing you the way out
Reading about the Gupta family and state capture feels a little like following Alice in her adventures in Wonderland. Who would have believed that SA could fall down a rabbit hole filled with absurdities that go against the core democratic values that shaped the country?
In his classic, Lewis Caroll writes: "I was thinking," Alice said very politely, "which is the best way out of this wood: it’s getting so dark. Would you tell me, please? But the little men only looked at each other and grinned."
The Republic of Gupta reminds you of maniacal little men who pull you deeper into the dark instead of showing you the way out. And when you reach the end, you feel lost in a tale that author Pieter-Louis Myburgh rightly points out is not fully complete.
It’s a dark tale still unravelling, but the book pieces together the story so far. It traces how brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh (also known as Tony) Gupta came to SA from Saharanpur in India in 1993. They had somewhat humble beginnings but had R1.24m to start a new business venture — it’s no rags to riches story. Over the years, the family cultivated a close relationship with President Jacob Zuma.
In 2013, a plane carrying more than 200 wedding guests, attending the nuptials of the brothers’ niece at Sun City, landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, a controlled military facility. This is where Myburgh starts the story: the moment the rest of SA took note of the surname Gupta.
Myburgh weaves through the tangled web with few fresh perspectives on their shenanigans, despite his box office seat as a journalist.
Myburgh is a News24 journalist whose covering and uncovering of Prasa’s multibillion deals won him the Taco Kuiper Award in 2016. But The Republic of Gupta lacks the verve of an ace reporter.
On legal advice, Myburgh didn’t contact the Guptas for comment or an interview. The absence of their perspective makes a one-dimensional tale.
The 263-page account is by no means a historical record of the Guptas from their arrival in SA. It is the story, however, of state capture and the blatant though complex relationships between the government, business and the state.
The infestation of the government begins with Thabo Mbeki’s presidency — as explained by former minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad. The chapter chronicling Atul’s appointment to the International Marketing Council during Mbeki’s presidency and his presence in Mbeki’s "consultative council" confirms that although Zuma may have overtly and ostentatiously danced to the tune of the Guptas to an estimated R10bn, he didn’t start the rot.
The book relies heavily on sources such as former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report and coverage by Barry Bateman and Marida Fitzpatrick of the wedding and the disastrous landing of the plane.
Many anecdotes, like the Guptas selling goods out of the boots of their cars at Bruma Lake in Johannesburg shortly after their arrival in SA, are based on anonymous interviews with former business associates.
Despite its flaws, it’s a gripping read, told in a John Grisham manner with the right kind of intrigue and a family of dastardly villains at the heart of the story. It is a valuable resource and record-collating the business deals, connecting the dots and finally telling the tale of capture.
The book ends with the firing of Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, which led to the unravelling of the ANC’s pretence at unity. Just like any good thriller, readers are left in suspense, wanting to know what happens next.
Title: THE REPUBLIC OF GUPTA: A Story of State Capture
Author: Pieter-Louis Myburgh
Publisher: Penguin Random House