Precipitate rise: Atul Gupta entered the list of SA’s 10 richest people in 2016, becoming the country’s wealthiest black businessman, according to Business Times. Gupta, with personal wealth valued at R10bn, was ranked seventh on the list, which is compiled by Who Owns Whom. Picture: Robert Tshabalala
Precipitate rise: Atul Gupta entered the list of SA’s 10 richest people in 2016, becoming the country’s wealthiest black businessman, according to Business Times. Gupta, with personal wealth valued at R10bn, was ranked seventh on the list, which is compiled by Who Owns Whom. Picture: Robert Tshabalala

In his state of the nation speech, President Jacob Zuma emphasised that the government was about to embark on a programme of "radical economic transformation". Many are concerned that this programme includes Zuma’s removal of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan — in response to yet another decree issued to Zuma by the Gupta family — after Gordhan presents the budget next week.

The family’s rise to such prominence is astonishing. Over the past year, it has become apparent that it wields massive influence, with agents placed strategically throughout state and nonstate apparatuses.

The Guptas came to public attention with increasing frequency from 2009. It was reported that they hijacked Zuma’s state visit to India in July 2010, allegedly playing gatekeepers for access to the president. They generously roped Zuma’s son Duduzane into their business, making the young man very rich very quickly.

When they launched their newspaper, The New Age in September 2010, questions were raised about the venture.

In November 2010, they landed a helicopter at Zoo Lake and survived the bad press. It proved to be a dry run that emboldened them.

Curiously, in February 2011, there were reports that Zuma faced a revolt in the ANC over his relationship with the Guptas, but nothing ever came of it, despite rumours that they were summoning "shivering" Cabinet ministers to their compound.

But it was with Guptagate that the family spectacularly crashed onto the national stage. On the last day of April 2013, the Guptas organised the landing of a jet at Waterkloof Air Force Base. It was carrying guests from India who would attend a wedding at Sun City.

Reports at the time said that 20 flying squad members, 10 flying squad cars, up to 40 members of the police counter-assault team and a VIP protection unit escorted the Guptas and their guests to the wedding.

The very idea that the family could use a national key point as a personal airport sparked outrage, with political parties, trade unions and others swiftly denouncing the affair.

The DA immediately called for an inquiry. The Cosatu spokesman at the time, Patrick Craven, said it was "an absolute insult to the people of SA that private individuals can use a public facility for their social activities and that state officials should escort them". Craven was indirectly a casualty of the chain of events that followed, as was Cosatu.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) said the transgression compromised "the security of our country and its sovereignty".

The ANC’s spokesman at the time, Jackson Mthembu, demanded that the government officials who authorised the landing explain how and why permission was granted. "The ANC will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the republic, its citizens and its borders," he said.

Of course, not "all and sundry" would be allowed such privilege. Only a particular family that had a particularly close relationship with Zuma was allowed to assume the role of royalty in what, until then, had been a republic.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe issued a statement that betrayed how livid he was: "The ANC, driven by the concern for the safety and sovereignty of SA, shall never allow a situation where our ports of entry and national key points are penetrated with impunity. Heads must roll."

The police minister at the time, Nathi Mthethwa, announced that then national police commissioner Riah Phiyega would launch an investigation.

"I have further instructed … that the law must take its course on any person found to be responsible," he said.

Mthethwa’s spokesman denied that the minister had authorised the use of police force members to escort the Guptas’ blue-light brigade.

The secretaries of the tripartite alliance were set to discuss the issue two days after the aircraft landed. Three government departments launched probes.

 

The ANC’s official response paved the way for — and even facilitated — the Guptas’ state capture

Public outrage intensified when Cosatu announced that the family had ordered black staff not to "contaminate" their guests by touching anything they used.

Atul Gupta said the family had created many jobs in the country, for which SA should be grateful and their flight had received permission to land.

It was three weeks after the wedding that Zuma responded, following an interministerial report that slapped the Guptas on the wrist for using Zuma’s name to secure permission to land at the base. Zuma did not use the word "Gupta" in his statement and called on government officials to be vigilant against "name-droppers".

The ANC’s official response paved the way for — and even facilitated — the Guptas’ state capture, which was, though
not yet apparent to all, already under way.

While Mantashe and Mthembu called for heads to roll, some Cabinet ministers dealing with the issue went into damage-control mode. Low-level officials were blamed and punished and a satisfactory account of the entire debacle was never issued.

Reading backwards, it is clear that most members of the ANC’s national executive committee already knew that the family was colonising them and the state and had the wherewithal to punish politicians on its direct or indirect payroll

Three weeks later, Mantashe was still livid about perceptions of the ANC doing the rounds. He began pushing back against the obvious conclusion drawn by Joe Public that Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas was deeply suspect and was the basis on which the family could abuse a national key point.

Reports that Mantashe had fallen out with Zuma over the issue were denied and, ever the party man, Mantashe redirected anger towards less salient aspects of the "hullabaloo". Remarkably, there was no outrage from other senior leaders of the ANC.

Reading backwards, it is clear that most members of the ANC’s national executive committee already knew that the family was colonising them and the state and had the wherewithal to punish politicians on its direct or indirect payroll. To his credit, Pallo Jordan wrote an article saying that the issue had compromised Zuma. Jordan was one of a very small number of national executive committee members untouched by the family.

Julius Malema, who by then had been kicked out of the ANC Youth League, also weighed in. The Guptas had not been able to bring him into their fold.

By June 2013 — less than two months after the wedding — the word "Guptagate" began to recede from public consciousness and seldom appeared in newspaper headlines.

But Andile Mngxitama, a radical-left critic at the time, accused Zuma in December 2013 of neoliberalism, of running the state for the benefit of a few — a "parallel quasi-state. This parallel system is manifested by the landing of the Guptas’ airplane for a family wedding at a state national key point", he wrote in an article.

By August 2013, the family was making other headlines. They launched their TV channel on DStv, with Duduzane Zuma as a key black economic empowerment partner, suggesting a relationship to Naspers that has yet to be determined. There were headlines about the amateurish nature of ANN7’s attempts at broadcasting news.

A February 2013 report suggested that Zuma had met with Koos Bekker (then Naspers CEO, now chairman) to ease the Guptas onto the DStv platform.

This happened, we now know, after the Guptas had made an attempt to take over the SABC newsroom. At about the same time, the SABC also launched a 24-hour news channel on DStv and then SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng announced that the state broadcaster’s relationship with the Guptas was set to grow.

Some time before Guptagate, the SABC had begun broadcasting Gupta-sponsored business breakfast shows on its Morning Live programme, paid for by state-owned companies with the apparent support of Jimi Matthews, who was the SABC’s head of news at the time.

We now know that long before the wedding aircraft landed, the family and their acolytes had set themselves to work reconfiguring state-owned enterprises, reconstituting their boards, dismissing incorruptible personnel, installing yes-men as CEOs and expanding their mining and other interests.

We now know that long before the wedding aircraft landed, the family and their acolytes had set themselves to work reconfiguring state-owned enterprises, reconstituting their boards, dismissing incorruptible personnel, installing yes-men as CEOs 

There were rumours that ministers were being appointed at the Guptas’ lair in Saxonwold: Fikile Mbalula, according to Malema, had been appointed this way, which leads to questions about the Guptas’ sponsorship of cricket tournaments named after their company, Sahara.

There were whispers about ministers easing the Guptas’ entry into mining. Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane flew to Switzerland for a very short holiday. Communications Minister Faith Muthambi allowed The New Age to be disseminated, at state expense, at airports, the SABC and government departments.

Nenegate exploded 32 months after Guptagate; Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor reinforced rumours of illegitimate Cabinet appointments. Thuli Madonsela added weight to these allegations in her last report as public protector.

Since Guptagate, the tripartite alliance has all but dissolved. The real Cosatu has become estranged from the ANC and the SACP has rediscovered its mission as a socialist party. Malema formed the EFF to become an opposition force against the ANC and the Zuptas.

Phiyega has been sidelined, as has Motsoeneng and Matthews quit the SABC in a sudden fit of conscience. The business breakfasts were axed and the SABC is set to undergo
a reshuffle.

Now Brian Molefe is being touted as the new finance minister. Mngxitama, who in 2016 described Motsoeneng and Molefe as "patriotic managers" and declared that he would "shoot to kill for Hlaudi", has thrown in his lot with Zuma and the now-indigenous "black" Guptas, who are working hard to replace white monopoly capital. In his newfound struggle for not-even-black monopoly capital, Mngxitama argues that Steve Biko would have approved of the Guptas.

The real veterans of the struggle have taken up the cause against state capture, but members of the ANC national executive committee by and large have been silent. Their cause has been taken up by those eminent political analysts appearing on the Zupta channel, aka ANN7, in the noble fight for radical economic transformation.

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