Guptas have become more than an irritation

Let us assume that the Guptas are every inch the savvy business movers and shakers that North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo says we are all blind to see.

Let us accept that Ajay, Atul and Rajesh are hard-working men who are trying to carve out their name in the business world in South Africa.

Let us therefore celebrate them for having abandoned their comfortable life in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to invest in South Africa.

For if we do, we might just see the Guptas as – in the words of Free State Premier Ace Magashule – citizens of this country that have every right to do business with whomever they chose to.

What then is it that makes almost all South Africans cringe at the mere mention of the Gupta name?

The answer lies in their apparent influence with every thing that has to do with our daily lives.

Whether perceived or real, the Guptas have become more than just a minor irritation on our body politic.

Not only do they have an apparent hold on President Jacob Zuma and the first family, they are also said to have an important view on who should run what ministry.

As recently as January, the Guptas were able to summon Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane to Zurich, Switzerland, to come with them and knock some sense into Glencore executives over the Optimum Colliery.

Until then, Zwane was a little known backbencher, whose only claim to fame was the Estina dairy project in Vrede, where he was fingered as the brainchild behind the controversial joint venture with some associates of the Gupta family.

At the time, Zwane was the Free State MEC for Agriculture.

Through Zwane’s involvement, the Guptas’ Tegeta Exploration & Resources was able to buy Optimum for R2.15 billion to supply coal to Eskom for a good couple of years.

Recently, reports have emerged that the Guptas had a hand in poor David van Rooyen’s short-lived stay as finance minister around the same time as they had Zwane to sweeten the Glencore deal.

But wait, it does not end there. It has now emerged that the Guptas allegedly offered Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas the job if he were to implement certain recommendations that they wanted.

The respected London-based Financial Times claimed that the Guptas met Jonas days before Nhlanhla Nene was axed as finance minister.

While the family has come out guns blazing to refute the claims, the fact that the Treasury took an unprecedented step to comment on the reports means there is more to this than meets the eye.

An endless list

Yesterday, a former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor posted on her facebook page that the family asked her to become Minister of Public Enterprises when Barbara Hogan got the chop, provided she dropped the SAA flight-route to India. The list is endless.

Since the advent of democracy in 1994, never has one family held so much influence over the 54 million people who call this country a home.

The Guptas’ Saxonworld compound appears to be where some of this country’s crucial decisions are hatched.

It is where the family plays a leisurely game on the extent of their influence in how this country is governed.

Even the collective shame they subjected all of us to when the Waterkloof military base was used as a landing base for a private plane filled with guests for the wedding of their niece has done nothing to prickle their conscience.

They know that while the rest of the country sees their shenanigans as anathema, their friends in the corridors of power are there to stave off any criticism.

Just this month, Mahumapelo came to the defence of the extravagant wedding, charging that it was a boost to the economy of the North West Province.

“It is my humble submission that the media coverage Sun City received following the much publicised wedding may just have opened up Sun City Resort to the Indian market specifically, and other markets generally as a South African venue of choice for such high-profile weddings or events,” Mahumapelo pontificated.

Mahumapelo and other Gupta cheerleaders like Magashule may therefore have a point.

After all the Guptas have invested heavily in the country and created jobs in a number of industries.

They have also saved a couple of companies that have taken a hit with the commodity prices glut.

Above all, the Guptas have also empowered one “previously disadvantaged” South African – Duduzane Zuma.

Before the Guptas came, Duduzane was just one of Zuma’s many children.

But since then, Duduzane has been catapulted on to the list of Africa’s dollar millionaires who are under 35.

But I have met many ANC and alliance leaders who have privately expressed concern about the Guptas’ influence in appointments, and rumours about consultations with the family before cabinet appointments are made.

Overstepped the mark

I have sat and listened to one after another, telling me how the Guptas have overstepped the mark in a range of areas, from wielding influence over state officials and appointments, to using their connections to win government contracts.

Almost all of them decry the fact that the Guptas seem to be more in the know about what is happening in the country than those elected to lead.

For South Africa, this should bring about a collective shame as this not only compromises the independence of our government departments, but it also lays the grounds for concern over the state and business alliance.

When the state is seen to be aligned to one interest, it usually does so at the expense of those who do not have money to buy influence in their countries.

More than any other country, South Africa knows the dangers of the alliance between the state and capital. One only has to look at the hostels and squatter camps that mushroom in every mining town to see the result.

The 2012 Marikana massacre also showed us how ugly things can turn if the state appears to be siding with those who have money.

Zuma will do all of us a huge favour by telling them that this country has leaders who have been elected to make decisions on behalf of the population.

He must take a lead from Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan who snubbed the post-Budget breakfast sponsored by the Guptas’ newspaper.

He needs to remind them that while South Africa will always be open to foreign investors, the country will jealously protect its sovereignty and not bow to any interests.

He also has to tell them that their perceived influence has not only damaged their brand, but has also cast aspersions on his leadership as well.

Failing which, history will judge him as the person who allowed the Guptas to become a symbol of the cronyism malaise that has afflicted our nation.