Never forget: This is how the Guptas stole SA
Seemingly untouchable for years, the perverted fairy tale of the Guptas started unravelling on Wednesday
Brothers Atul, Rajesh, and Ajay Gupta sprang to notoriety in May 2013 after brazenly orchestrating the landing of a commercial airliner at the Waterkloof airbase – a national key point and the South African Air Force’s busiest airbase.
The jet was carrying guests from India, who had flown in to witness the wedding of one of the youngest Gupta progeny at an obscenely lavish ceremony at Sun City.
So daring and cunning was the feat, which involved corrupting senior protocol and military personnel, that the media would later label the entire debacle “Guptagate”.
The scandal was the first time many South Africans had heard the brothers’ names. But by then their grip on President Jacob Zuma was absolute. They had already handpicked and elevated several ANC activists to senior government positions, both provincially and nationally.
Leaked Gupta e-mails show the family had by then also courted then Free State premier Ace Magashule by showering gifts on his two sons, Tshepiso and Thato. They paid their rent and for holidays in Dubai, among other favours. The same was done with senior ANC leader Jessie Duarte. There is speculation that more ANC leaders’ family members benefited from the family.
At the time of the Sun City wedding, the family had also reaped the fruits of cultivating a relationship with little-known Free State agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.
The relationship had netted the family the R30-million they needed to pay for the wedding. The glitzy event was also used to give the family access to even more influential South Africans and politicians, who were invited to the wedding and hosted at the family’s expense.
The money had been siphoned from funding earmarked for the Vrede Dairy Farm project, which had been approved by Zwane. It is this deal that enabled law enforcement authorities, led by the Hawks, to make a series of arrests on Wednesday in Gauteng and the Free State.
Before their rise to notoriety, the Guptas appeared to many to be like any other high-profile entrepreneurial family. They had a passion for cricket and dispensed much-needed sponsorship and patronage from their Sahara Computers business.Publicly available information suggests the brothers, who arrived in South Africa in the mid-1990s as businessmen looking for a break, were introduced to Zuma in the early 2000s, allegedly by the minister in the presidency in the Thabo Mbeki era, Essop Pahad.
Pahad has done business with the family and has stated he is fast friends with the trio.
Journalist Pieter Louis-Myburgh wrote in his book The Republic of Gupta that Ajay, who is the eldest brother, was part of a secretive council of businessmen who gave advice to Mbeki as early as 2005.
But the Guptas secured their foothold in Zuma’s camp through his children, and took care of him at a time when he was unemployed and campaigning for ANC presidency.
Years before Zuma became president in 2009, the Guptas hired his twin sons Duduzile and Duduzane Zuma to work for Sahara Computers – a massive, proudly South African company.Duduzile spent 13 months as a director of the computer business, while Duduzane enjoyed a meteoric rise to become a director of multiple Gupta companies, holding shares in mining, property and media – all before he was 30.
Some of these companies, including Tegeta Resources and Exploration, are at the dark heart of the state capture story.
Subsequent media reports and the trove of leaked e-mails belonging to the Guptas expose how deep their tentacles extended into the democratic state.
In an attempt to thwart a backlash and increasing scrutiny by late 2012, the family began peddling a narrative that questions about their influence were nothing more than jealousy on the part of white business which was failing to compete with them on equal footing.
Behind the scenes the family continued to play a hand in the hiring and firing of ministers in key cabinet portfolios and their directors-general.
Their tentacles soon extended to several state-owned companies including South African Airways – with its R24-billion per year procurement spend, Transnet, Eskom, as well as smaller entities.
At the same time, VIP visitors to their Saxonwold compound increased. So did rumours of their salacious offers to public servants in return for deals. The biggest scandal was an offer to former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas in 2016 of R600-million in cash plus the position of finance minister if he aided their state capture project.
Jonas, who declined the offer, was the first cabinet minister to go on record with allegations of how the Guptas had tried to bribe him.
In another bribery incident, fired South African Airways chairman Vuyisile Kona was allegedly offered R500,000 by the Guptas just weeks after he took the driving seat at the airline. The offer came after he had been taken to Saxonwold by then Public Enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba’s political advisor Siyabonga Mahlangu.
The family also influenced the appointment of an Indian molecular biologist, Dr Rajesh Naithani, onto the board of SAA. At the time the SAA was looking to spend billions of rands on several aircraft to replenish its aging fleet.
Across town at the Carlton Centre, the state’s rail, ports and pipelines company, Transnet, was implementing major changes including the introduction of an acquisition and disposals committee (ADC) to oversee massive tenders at board level.
On these committees the family could rely on their associate Iqbal Sharma and Stanley Shane, who both chaired ADC at various times, as well as the dirty duo of former CEO Brian Molefe and chief financial officer Anoj Singh.
Their biggest deal was the R52-billion locomotive tender offered to China South Rail from which the Guptas, through associate Salim Essa, made a cool R5.2-billion in commissions.
More billions were raised in commissions, fees for professional services, and IT contracts at Transnet.
By now, the Gupta juggernaut was unstoppable, and a decision was taken to apply more vigour to a failed bid, by Gupta associate Goldridge, to land coal supply contracts at state power company Eskom.
Since 2011, reports carried in the Sunday Times and other titles reported how the family had tried unsuccessfully to land these lucrative contracts. But poor coal quality was a major stumbling block.
After much pressure, as revealed by former board chair Zola Tsotsi, the family once again resorted to making changes.
During testimony before a parliamentary inquiry into the capture of Eskom, Tsotsi revealed a meeting with Zuma in which he instructed that four senior Eskom executives, who were seen as standing in Zuma’s way, be suspended and pushed out.
Following their removal, the Gupta family’s fortunes at Eskom changed and, on their fifth try, they finally landed a lucrative contract, the conditions of which almost immediately escalated in favour of the family.
This was followed by the announcement that Molefe would take over as CEO at Eskom, and he was soon joined by his trusty sidekick Singh as CFO.
Their roles in aiding the Gupta family would later be revealed by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her State of Capture report.
But before that, billions more flowed in, including an unlawful pre-payment that helped the family muscle mining giant Glencore out of a mine.
Eskom also paid more than R1.6-billion in consultancy fees to international firm McKinsey and Company and their Gupta-linked supplier development partner Trillian, whose major shareholder was none other than Essa himself.
When maximum siphoning had been achieved, the family set its sights on a the biggest prize yet: capturing National Treasury.
The Department of Finance, whose determination to curb state waste and tender corruption led to the creation of the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer, was considered problematic because of its prudence and insistence on clean procurement – particularly at SOEs.
History will perhaps show that an attack on the Treasury, arguably South Africa’s most highly regarded department, and its leadership was the last straw.
Jonas, unlike other civil servants who cowered under their influence, went public and delivered a sworn affidavit to Madonsela for her investigation.
Her preliminary report was enough to galvanise South Africans against the family and begin a fight-back – led by former Finance minister Pravin Gordhan – that saw numerous other whistleblowers come forward, leading ultimately to Wednesday’s raid on the Saxonwold residence.