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Gambling on a nation: The real Guptas of South Africa

By Gugulethu Hughes

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

If there is a widely publicised phenomenon in 21st century South Africa, it’s the Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh. These brothers of Indian origin made South Africa their home in 1993. The following year, they established Sahara Computers, an IT products distribution business covering the whole of Southern Africa. The business was so profitable that it afforded the Gupta brothers a lavish lifestyle. Soon, they made the posh Johannesburg suburb Saxonwold their home. 

The bulk of their profits came through government tender awards for IT components and other related services. The awarded contracts were a product of rigorous public procurement processes, and, like many other IT companies, Sahara computers met bid requirements. 

 It’s well-known that businesses associated with senior politicians can influence the outcomes of public procurement tender processes. In certain circumstances, the Guptas may have used their strategic positioning to influence such outcomes. It’s also possible that other businesses that played in the same turf and were also influential. This includes businesses like Datacentrix, Bytes, Mustek, Ast, and Pinnacle amongst others. 

Sahara Computers was established at the age of information technology revolution in Africa and the world. The Guptas had found themselves a niche market. 

Contrary to sponsored narratives and propaganda, the Gupta family did not begin thriving during President Jacob Zuma’s tenure. Instead, they found their footing during the Mandela era and got their rhythm during the Thabo Mbeki era. By the time Jacob Zuma became President, the Guptas were already an established empire and a preferred supplier for various government departments. Their ambition, adventure, and grit were never considered a threat.  

In June 2006, they founded Oakbay Investments which became their holding business for the expansion of their reach. In 2013, as part of Oakbay Investments diversification, they formed Africa News Network otherwise known as ANN7- a news broadcast television station. Earlier, in 2010, they’d formed TNA media which began publishing The New Age newspaper in December of that same year. 

In 2006, the Gupta brothers formed Tegeta Exploration and Resources, a company with interests in the mining sector. In 2015, Tegeta bought Optimum Coal Mine from Glencore for a purchase price of close to 2.5 billion rands. They later made a cost-effective coal supply agreement with the State-owned Electricity Supply Commission otherwise known as Eskom.  

The Guptas are businesspeople who managed to build a name for themselves in South Africa  

by diversifying their portfolios and channeling their investments into different industries. Their growth story is something for motivational books – anyone who has studied the South Africa economy and ownership patterns would agree with me. 

While non-white South Africans attained recognition of civil rights in 1994, the economy remained under capture of White Monopoly Companies (WMCs) and multinationals. The biggest economic freedom reached by non-white-owned businesses has been as subcontractors to big white firms at most. 

The bulk of government procurement spend still goes to WMCs. Some of these businesses enjoy 40-year evergreen contracts and have majored in ripping the fiscus and government public procurement budgets apart through inflated service costs and exorbitant prices for supplies. The value of contracts awarded to Gupta owned companies by various governmental departments and State-Owned Enterprises, were very miniscule compared to what WMCs continue to get. 

In 2003, the South Africa government introduced the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act to bridge the inequality gap and ensure black owned businesses received preferential access to public procurement opportunities. This act, though noble on paper, never manifested into practical expression as the inequality gap continued to widen. White-owned businesses just used black people as fronts while still extracting profits for themselves. 

Corruption in public procurement also led to businesses linked to politicians and people with influence in Tender Boards getting access to some of the state spend. A middle class rooted in white privilege emerged, and the inequality gap between rich and poor further widened.  

Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment became to South Africa what Black Lives Matter is to the United States of America – a ‘for blacks’ solution from non-blacks. The Gupta family businesses benefited from the BEE Act like some other black businesses, but not to the extent enjoyed by white-owned businesses. Oakbay Investments as a Group did not even take real business away from multinationals – in industries where they operated, they were not the leading business, nor did they enjoy monopoly. Instead, WMCs began to consider the Guptas a future threat to the dominance of multinationals in the South African economy.  

The onslaught on their reputation and businesses gained momentum after Tegeta purchased Optimum Mine from Glencore. Tegeta agreed on a lesser coal supply price with Eskom at a time when Glencore wanted to increase its purchase price, hence the pressure on the government to accede to Glencore demands. 

To continue with the misinformation, the white system made use of its monopoly in the media sector. Again, the Guptas became a threat to this misinformation drive as they used their media businesses to present a different narrative of the status quo, a more truthful narrative. The white power structure responded by pulling the Gupta-owned Africa News Network television channel from Multichoice (Dstv) bouquets – Multichoice itself is owned by the gods of White Monopoly Capital. This meant the propaganda machine would continue unabated. 

The damage done by media monopoly on the national psyche is still visible to this day – even the public broadcaster became a decoy of White Monopoly Capital. The media attacks on the Gupta family became an industry that created jobs for lots of journalists and critics alike – any anti-Gupta rhetoric became the ultimate measure of intelligence. Essentially, there was absolutely no mainstream media channel available to challenge the anti-Gupta symphony. 

The industrial psychology complex of misinformation reached its peak when the term “State Capture” got tossed on the backs of the Gupta family. Unfounded accusations of them capturing the state were thrown around even by cabinet members and other government officials. They even got accused of appointing cabinet members for their own self-aggrandisement, though none of the accusers could prove this. 

When President Zuma recalled Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas from his cabinet – the white power structure sponsored a national and international meltdown and apportioned the blame on the Gupta brothers without any iota of proof. When the attacks on Guptas weren’t achieving intended results, President Zuma was considered vicariously liable for the mere existence of a family whose profitable business existed before his time.  

Regardless, a state capture investigation by the Western darling Public Protector Thuli Madonsela ensued. This inquiry was a witch-hunt process targeted at the Gupta family, even though President Zuma expanded the terms to focus on all forms of state capture since 1994. Formation of a Commission of an Inquiry into State Capture was recommended, and President Zuma was stripped of his powers to appoint the Chairperson of the Commission.  

The political environment and persecution soon became toxic for the Gupta family to continue doing business in South Africa, hence their move to Dubai. Yet, after all the investment on the Gupta witch hunts, absolutely nothing untoward and criminal in their conduct has been found to be true. 

What now exists is inferences from anti-Gupta sponsored individuals. That, and citizens struggling to shake off misinformation fed to them regarding the Gupta family. 

If state capture by non-whites is a crime, then it’s not Tony, Ajay, and Atul Gupta who are guilty of it. Rather, it’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Jeff Radebe, and Patrice Motsepe. What makes the three musketeers even more dangerous is their long-standing affiliation to White Monopoly Capital.  

After the 1976 Soweto Uprisings, three white men, Harry Oppenheimer, Anton Rupert, and Clive Mennel, formed the Urban Foundation in 1977. The Foundation served as a white initiative focused on “education, housing, and urban development in black communities, mostly townships.” 

At face value, the Urban Foundation, which ran its course until 1995, seemed like a morally upright initiative. In essence, it was a tool for managing black aspirations while grooming clever blacks to front for white corporations when political liberation was realised. 

Based on instances in other African countries, it was already a given that the apartheid political machinery would succumb to the war waged by black liberation groups and international pressure. Thus, the Urban Foundation served as a laboratory to create black psyches that would be incorporated into the white system and ensure that the economy remained in the hands of white control. 

In 1933, Bob Hersov, Norbert Erleigh, and Simeone Mennel formed mining company Anglovaal. In 1982, Cyril Ramaphosa became the first National Union of Mine Workers secretary general, despite having no mining experience. Both Ramaphosa and Mennel later became board members on the Urban Foundation – and that would be where he got the rest of his thought processes intoxicated with whiteness. 

During the political settlement negotiations that preceded the 1994 election and the period thereafter, Ramaphosa was always strategically inserted into lead negotiator positions for the ANC. After he was overlooked for the position of Deputy President by Nelson Mandela, he went on to accumulate wealth using his connections and relations with White Monopoly Capital. 

Ramaphosa flourished even more during the Thabo Mbeki era and founded Shanduka Group in 2001. By 2011, his wealth and connections let him secure a 20-year master franchise deal to run 145 McDonald’s outlets in South Africa. He has occupied directorships and strategic positions in different companies like Mondi, Glencore, MTN Group, Bidvest, South Africa Breweries, and more. 

These are just a few positions he held up to the pinnacle position of State President. In his first term as President, he’s done everything in his power to ensure that white peoples’ capture of the state remains intact and surpasses its wildest imaginations. 

During his tenure, South Africa scrapped the public procurement directives from the previous administration to have at least 30% of government spend channeled towards black businesses. The country has taken loans and borrowed from the International Monetary Fund whose conditions are as atrocious as colonialism. 

More so, in 2020 he was fingered by PETA Asia for benefitting from trophy hunting in South Africa. A full account of his forays in both private and public sector deserves a separate article, but if we are to talk of State Capture, he is a “Gupta.”  

Ramaphosa married Tshepo Motsepe, sister to Patrice Motsepe. Patrice Motsepe studied law at the University of Swaziland and University of Witwatersrand and joined Bowman law firm in 1988, later becoming a partner in 1993. Between 1991 and 1992, he was a visiting attorney in the USA law firm McGuire, Woods, Buttle, and Booth. As is the case with the likes of Nelson Mandela, it was in these law firms during the height of apartheid that he initiated into tomfoolerism, to coin a term. 

Motsepe’s adoption by the white power structure came full circle when he formed a mining services company called Future Mining. In 1997, he established ARM Gold, which merged with Harmony Gold and acquired Anglovaal (a Mennel family company) in 2003. 

Another company, Harmony Gold, operates in both South Africa, and New Guinea – and the history of the company links back to Randgold before being acquired by ARM. Randgold itself was rebuilt by Mark Bristow in 1995, a man who was part of the South Africa apartheid army. 

The growth and expansion of the African Rainbow Mineral Group, specifically Harmony Gold, is attributable to acquisition deals made with AngloGold from 2001-2020, with more deals to come. AngloGold, which has its roots in Anglo-America, was started by Ernest Oppenheimer in 1917. If state capture also means dominance in the extraction of mineral resources and ensuring continued white power structure advantage, then Patrice Motsepe, and his brother-in-law, are real “Guptas”.  

Perhaps the best description of Jeff Radebe, the last member of the “Gupta Brothers,” is how his daughter Mandisa Radebe referred to him as the main conman while she was exposing “Gupta” family dinner discussions on Twitter. 

Jeff Radebe has had a long career in government, having served in all the five administrations in different portfolios. One could argue his role has been to protect family interests at the government level while influencing policy accordingly. Just like Cyril Ramaphosa, he’s married to another of the Motsepe sisters named Bridgette Motsepe. 

When Cyril Ramaphosa became the President of the country, he appointed Jeff Radebe to the energy portfolio as Minister of Energy. There, Radebe oversaw the signing of Independent Power Producer deals that are set to be the main conmen in the provision of energy and power for South Africans. 

In 2018, Jeff Radebe signed renewable energy contracts with 27 Independent Power Producers. The 27 power producers are all made up of European companies and the local ones consist of businesses where Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Energy and Power has a stake in. In 2021, 12 of the 25 green power entities that got preferred bidder status belong to the Ikamva Equity Consortium where African Rainbow Energy and Power is a key stakeholder.  

With South Africa on the path to energy privatisation, and the government phasing out coal-powered energy, the real Gupta brothers are on trek to maintaining their opulence and white domination at the expense of aspirations of South African citizens. 

In 2018, Jeff Radebe was a recipient of the Big Five Energy Award presented by the Africa Oil and Power conference. In 2014, President Jacob G. Zuma ratified the Grand Inga Treaty between South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The treaty was meant to meet the power needs of Southern and Central Africa through hydroelectricity. But by 2020, USA-based Congo Research Group and Cape Town-based Phuzumoya Consulting released a report recommending that the South African government cancel its Inga Treaty commitments. 

It’s safe to say with the real “Gupta brothers” running the mill for White Monopoly Capital, Africa must forget about sustainable energy projects that won’t benefit the main culprits of the white power structure. The successes of Cyril Ramaphosa, Jeff Radebe, and Patrice Motsepe are interlinked with the continued dominance of the Urban Foundation’s founders like the Mennel, Oppenheimer, Rupert, and Hersov families. 

Today, the Oppenheimer family is the biggest donor to the ruling ANC party and the lead opposition party the Democratic Alliance. Patrice Motsepe is another ANC donor. Meanwhile, the Hersov family is pushing for outright regime change while donating to opposition parties, and the Rupert family has presence in every sector of the economy — the mouths and anuses of South African come into contact with Rupert family products every day. 

Finally, Cyril Ramaphosa got the courts to seal the identities of businesses and individuals that funded his 2017 ANC presidential campaign, lest the Gupta-hood became known even to lazy thinkers.

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Gugulethu Hughes


Gugulethu Hughes is the ScoonTV Africa correspondent

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