From Gandhi to Guptas: Satyagrah to “State Capture” in South Africa

Lalit Shastri

Sahara Estate of Guptas, 7 Saxonwold drive. Johannesburg, South Africa

The Gupta family, which is among the richest in South Africa,  have tried every trick in the book. The President of South Africa has minimal education and this crowd of clever men have educated him on how to rip off every single large government project that they can. After many attempts to charge them (the Democratic Alliance or DA, which is in the opposition in Parliament, has leveled charges) it looks like they are in the noose for claiming a huge tax deduction for a wedding held in 2013. The charge against them is that the money used to pay for the wedding was supposed to go to a State funded project.

The fabulously wealthy Gupta family, formerly from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, India, much like the infamous Al Capone, might finally get their comeuppance in South Africa.

The controversial family of the Guptas, which is more infamous than famous for its close ties with the President of South Africa Jacob Zuma and his family, is now facing the heat as the powerful Gupta brothers – Atul Gupta, Ajay Gupta, and Rajesh “Tony” Gupta – earlier this month were slapped with the charge by Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Finance, David Maynier that along with Mosebenzi Zwane – the then MEC of Agriculture and Rural Development– who hails from Vrede, these brothers should be tried for racketeering, money laundering, assisting another to benefit from the proceeds of unlawful activities, and acquiring, possessing or using the proceeds of unlawful activities in terms of the Prevention of Organized Crime Act (No. 121 of 1998); and submitting false, or untrue, tax returns in terms of the Tax Administration Act (No. 28 of 2011).




Speaking outside the Estina dairy Farm at Vrede in Free State, DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane said on July 12 that those present on the spot were the most direct victims of the corruption and theft of South Africa’s resources by a small political elite – led by the Guptas and Jacob Zuma.

The common people were suffering because of state capture by Zuma’s ANC and the Gupta dynasty, Maimane said adding the Vrede dairy project was put into motion in early 2013 – just months after Zwane and officials from the Free State Department of Agriculture enjoyed a Gupta-funded trip to India in October 2012.

Thereafter, the Gupta-controlled company Estina bagged the tender for the Vrede Project, the DA Leader said while pointing out that, Estina received an upfront amount of R183 950 000 for infrastructure development of the farm without a single cent of their own investment.

Democratic Alliance has announced that they will closely monitor the process regarding the charges, and ensure that those who stole money and broke the law are put behind bars. They will also be exploring criminal charges against the Guptas in the UAE for money laundering.

There are also reports of email correspondence, being talked about a lot these days on twitter as #GuptaLeaks. Those in knowledgeable circles are now talking of Guptas’ Linkway Trading company, which has been accused of diverting funds meant for the Vrede Dairy project to Dubai through the provincial government of Vrede. A good part of this money , it has been reported, got routed back to fund a mega wedding in the Gupta family and was shown as business expenditure to gain massive tax deduction.

Till now the Guptas appeared to be invincible. Now finally, like Al Capone, it seems that they might have made a big mistake in their taxes and the noose appears to be tightening on them.

The Gupta family has been involved with South African President Jacob Zuma for years and since arriving in South Africa in 1993, Atul Gupta personally has amassed a fortune making him the 7th richest man in South Africa.

From 1860 for the next 50 years more than 1,50,000 Indians from India arrived in South Africa as indentured labourers. Their descendants largely live in the Greater Durban area of the KwaZulu – Natal Province. They are law abiding, intelligent, hard working, good businessmen and women and an industrious people.

When contacted by newsroom24x7, a South African native reflected on the two extremes and said: “Some of the leaders in their communities have been leaders in the struggle against apartheid and a voice of reason in the post apartheid South Africa. One of the these leaders who came to South Africa was Mahatma Gandhi, and during his stay in South Africa he developed his passive resistance known as Satyagraha. He was a great civil rights activist for his people. How fortunate South Africa was to have had a man of this calibre. And then we have the other type of export from India. Born in Uttar Pradesh, the Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul, Rajesh “Tony” Gupta as well as Atul Gupta’s nephew Varun Gupta, who arrived in post-Apartheid South Africa in 1993 and ingratiated themselves with President Zuma and in doing so, have achieved to a large degree State Capture.”

“ In transition economies, corruption has taken on a new image—that of so-called oligarchs manipulating policy formation and even shaping the emerging rules of the game to their own, very substantial advantage. We refer to this behavior as state capture.” screams an IMF report [Finance & Development, A quarterly magazine of the IMF, September 2001, Volume 38, Number 3].

The IMF report goes on to underscore the malaise by defining state capture as the efforts of firms to shape the laws, policies, and regulations of the state to their own advantage by providing illicit private gains to public officials. We develop a method to measure this form of grand corruption based on the findings and analysis of a survey of nearly 4,000 firms in 22 transition countries.




Thuli Madonsela, the former Senior Public Protector, an independent anti-corruption watchdog, in South Africa finalised a State Capture report on the family and Government and found that through their influence on the Government there was evidence of possible corruption at the highest level of South Africa’s government, involving the Guptas which needed more examination. A number of banks have refused to deal with them, the trade unions feel that their behaviour is not right but no one is daring to criticise the President and his Gupta friends.

The people of South Africa are fed up with them. Most believe that many Government projects have been hijacked and instead of uplifting the masses, wealth has been looted into the pockets of the Guptas.

The Guptas are controversial for their close relationship with South African president Jacob Zuma. The Gupta family owns a business empire spanning computer equipment, media and mining.

The Gupta’s came under a volley of attack after a chartered jet carrying over 200 wedding guests landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013. This blew up lot of political dust and there was an outcry over the Guptas connections with the South African President.

In early 2011, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) had raised concerns about the increasing number of big government deals being made “in a suspicious manner” and singled out the Guptas as targets for an investigation.

Protesters had also started building pressure around this time and demanding the removal of President Jacob Zuma after the office of the public protector had published a report titled “State of Capture”. This report by the former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was focused on the relationship between the South African President and the Gupta family and the increasing extra-constitutional authority it was wielding when it came to finalising ministerial appointments and important government contracts.

After the lid was off over the relationship between the South African President Jacob Zuma and the Guptas and how these ties were helping in cornering huge government contracts, it was reported by Reuters in March 2016, that the South African lender Barclays Africa had called off a meeting at the ministerial level to smoothen the differences between the Oakbay Investments and the bank. Coinciding with this many companies and a few leading banks also closed their doors to Oakbay Investments.

In 2016 Atul Gupta became the 7th wealthiest person in South Africa with an estimated net worth of R10.7 billion (US$773.47 million), based on JSE-listed holdings.

 

The family migrated from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to South Africa in 1993, shortly before the country’s first democratic elections, to establish Sahara Computers. The family is based at the Sahara Estate in Saxonworld, Johannesburg, a compound comprising at least four mansions and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This month the Guptas are also in news, as they are now embroiled in yet another controversy. This time it is linked to the hiring of the top-notch public relations firm Bell Pottinger, headquartered in London, by Oakbay Capital, the company owned by the Gupta brothers. The London company was taken on board to improve the Gupta family image, and to take pressure off President Zuma and his son after the former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had released her report on how the Gupta family were possibly involved in corruption in the Government leading to the conclusion that the state had been captured by this family.

What blew the lid off in this entire exercise was the flooding of social media in South Africa with fake posts and tweets talking of “white monopoly capital” and lack of wealth distribution in South Africa. This racist ploy was blasted by an independent probe. It also forced Bell Pottinger to tender an apology and fire a partner along with a couple of employees.

As the series of exposés continue to run, the wealthy immigrant Indian family are seeing their last name turned into the colloquialism for corruption.