• One of the highlights of 2016 has been the South African State of the Nation Address, not for the material President Zuma presented but for the dramatic Economic Freedom Fighter chants that went something like, “Zupta must fall!”

    At this moment the world had been gifted with a very easy hashtag and even the clueless were hashtagging out of their minds; #ZuptaMustFall. The reality of the very addictive and rhythmic EFF chant is a complexity hard to understand yet the EFF has made it a game of definites. For starters, what is Zupta and why must this creature fall?

    The EFF party, a very noisy self-professed voice of the people in South Africa coined the very catchy name, Zupta “in honour” of a very questionable relationship between the President, Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family. Forget Zuma for a moment and focus on the very elusive Guptas whose worth is not really known. Very discreet, yes? The patriarchs of the Gupta family are Ajay, Atul and Rajesh who migrated from the state of Uttar Pradesh to South Africa in 1993 for business. Their father apparently believed Africa was going to be the new United States of America. The family’s business concerns have since grown from just Sahara Computers to cover way more than just computer equipment with a portfolio that spans across the media field and mining industry. Saying this is a really rich family is asserting the obvious. This is a family which lives in the fancy suburb of Saxonwold, Johannesburg and has more than one mansion; absolute edifices on the Estate. All this should not even interest you. What is interesting is their relationship with the President of the Republic. These “besties” have been subject of much scrutiny over the past few years with opposition political parties in South Africa milking everything out of the chance to prove that President Zuma is unfit to lead.

    The family first met Zuma in 2003 at Sahara Estate when he attended a function they were hosting. They had been relatively quiet business people to this point but no one knows what changed. All the world knows is that one day, the Guptas woke up and decided to take over South Africa (that is if making friend with the President counts as taking over). Ten years later, a scandalous aircraft landing from India facilitated by the Guptas at an Air force base at Waterkloof made the Guptas a household name. It was termed “Guptagate” so as to make it really juicy and striking for the papers. Zappiro, the famous cartoonist had a wild party with the situation and it officially became an explosive media and political affair. For the first time in a very long time, political parties across the spectrum agreed that this abuse of military facilities was not to be condoned and in ANC’s words, whoever was responsible had to be “brought to book”. Quite a bold thing to say when there is potential that the President had a hand in the crisis! It however emerged that Bruce Koloane, the Chief of Protocol at the Department of International Relations used Zuma’s name to illegally authorise landing. Very convenient explanation!

    “They (The Guptas) are a shadow government. They are a sign of what’s wrong with our country,” Zwelinzima Vavi, a former labour unionist is known to have said. There are many telling signs to support this monstrous claim but maybe the Guptas are given a little too much credit. Three patriarchs cannot hold a country of no less than 50 million people at ransom. At this rate, the next thing will be top blame them for the low oil prices. Regardless of all the reservations about the degree of their influence, it is clear they have quite some clout in the political arena of South Africa. Lately, Zuma has been fiddling with the controls of the State, firing a Finance Minister and hiring a new one who he fired after four days in office. That’s quite the record really; 4 days in office? What a joke! But what is really going on? Hiring and firing like running a country is a Donald Trump reality show is not how you become an iconic President of one of Africa’s jewels. It shows a high level of confusion and knee-jerk reactions only explicable if one admits the presence of a puppeteer in the background. The President also appointed Mosebenzi Zwane, an absolute novice in the political game to head the Ministry of Mineral Resources to which EFF gladly proffered an explanation, “Welcome to the Gupta Republic of South Africa: The new Minister of Mineral Resources is an extension of the Gupta family.”

    Julius Malema, the leader of the very vocal and probably too liberal party has gone as far as calling the Guptas a “corrupt cartel” with behaviour in the same mould as the mafia.

    Equally extreme in his assertions is the new Democratic Alliance leader, Mmusi Maimane who went on to say, “Zuma is controlled by the Guptas.”

    To put things into perspective, three Zumas have been employees in the Gupta empire and Bongi Ngema-Zuma and Duduzane Zuma are still very much a part of the Gupta concerns. Their exploits are very much a matter of common knowledge particularly the success of Duduzane’s business ventures financed by the Guptas. The Guptas have denied financing Duduzane but they are not the best source of unbiased information. If indeed the family, particularly the three brothers have half as much influence as analysts and opposition political parties in South Africa, then they must fall from politics and focus on fair business. They are distracting the President who should be focusing on the 25.5% unemployment rate and the not so stable South African rand.

    With good cause, Nic Borain, Adviser of BNP Paribas Securities South Africa asserted, “It’s a deeply troubling relationship between the Gupta family and the President’s family.” Indeed, the President can have friends but he should take care to have relationships understood to be clean with not even a haze of undue influence. That is the burden of being leader in a democracy. The Guptas have been known to buy companies at the brink of closure thus saving thousands of jobs. All these good deeds are however outweighed by the heavy undertones of unfairness in such tenders as the ZAR4 billion Eskom deal. If this union is indeed holy, then the friends are really struggling to act innocent.


    Image Credit: Daily Maverick