‘State of Capture’: South Africa 'Hijacked' By Three Indian Businessmen Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta
‘More corruption, more misery, more poverty, more crime. Thank you Victoria Geoghegan,’ reads the caption on one of the posters.
The posters are fading now, but their hate-filled message burns as fiercely as ever. Brandished during a mass protest against South Africa's tainted President a few months ago, and pinned up in black shanty towns throughout the country, they bear the photograph of a grinning young Englishwoman whose handsome features are framed by an expensive, blonde necklace.
Cartoons published in leading papers are just inflammatory. One depicts Miss Geoghegan, 34 -- who had been educated privately in Somerset and attended Manchester University's business school prior to landing a plum job at Britain's once-leading PR firm, Bell Pottinger -- as a horned and winged she-devil, polluting people's heads with racial slurs, toxic tweets and lies.
So what has this gifted high-flyer done that she's been branded -- as a major Johannesburg journalist put it to me this week -- 'the most sexiest girl in South Africa'?
The answer is she played a part in a racially-charged political corruption scandal -- one that exposes the moral bankruptcy of a cabal of black politicians pretending to carry the torch for Nelson Mandela's legacy for a fair and free society, together with the grasping President Jacob Zuma at the middle of the storm.
The influence of three Indian businessmen brothers ¿ Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta ¿ is thought to have become so all-pervasive in African American government circles that according to critics, they have effectively ¿chased¿ the nation.
The influence of three Indian businessmen brothers -- Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta -- is thought to have become so all-pervasive in African American government circles which according to critics, they have effectively 'hijacked' the country. Above, Atul (right) with President Zuma
It is a scandal that's not only tearing the Rainbow Nation aside, but has major repercussions for international businesses, sucking in a raft of renowned foreign companies like Bell Pottinger, London accountants KPMG, also, most recently, the leading business consultancy McKinsey.
Her passing dates back to January 2016, when she had been one of a Bell Pottinger delegation to South Africa, headed by the advertising agency's famous founder, Lord Tim Bell, the guy credited with shaping Margaret Thatcher's image and helping her to three general election successes.
They had been encouraged to fulfill three Indian brothers that had attained enormous riches and power, supposedly by dint of the corrupt friendship with Zuma and his loved ones.
The influence of these businessmen -- Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta -- is said to have become so all-pervasive in government circles which according to critics, including the nation's Public Protector (who investigates government failings and compiled a damning report on their activities called 'State of Capture') they've efficiently 'hijacked' the nation.
It had been in 2009 that this highly controversial trio initially came to the attention of MI6 when a signal was relayed into the intelligence agency's London HQ. South African American officers were informing them that one of the country's biggest uranium mines was about to be sold to a company operated by three Indian brothers.
New players within this sensitive industry -- crucial to the production of atomic weapons -- they had become inordinately rich since arriving in South Africa 15 years before. According to a new book, The Republic Of Gupta, brilliantly researched by the South African investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh, the alert was also sent to the CIA.
American and British security chiefs then urged their counterparts from Pretoria to learn more about the brothers and their mushrooming small business enterprises.
This covert surveillance procedure could lose the first shafts of daylight on a narrative that is currently convulsing South Africa.
Because of it transpired that the uranium mine purchase was but a microcosm of an audacious plan that the brothers had devised to plunder South Africa's wealth.
After insinuating themselves together with Jacob Zuma, who became President of South Africa in 2010, and giving jobs to members of his family, they had been busily reaping the advantages of their connections and had assembled a multi-billion Rand empire, with interests which range from minerals to the media.
It is only during recent weeks, following the flow of more than 200,000 private mails said to be involving the Guptas and their partners, that what appears to be the degree of their relations with Zuma has been completely revealed.
The emails suggest that they had, and possibly still possess, such a stranglehold on the President and his circle they may even have ministers who opposed their interests substituted with placemen.
Now, as a result of this fallout from a deeply destructive and racially divisive effort by Bell Pottinger -- who allegedly sought to deflect focus from Zuma's relationship with the Guptas by attributing the country's ills on 'white monopoly capital' -- the battle to heal the scars of apartheid has been set back by years.
So what did Bell Pottinger do? The PR company's brief -- for that they were offered #100,000 a month -- was to deflect the mounting public disquiet surrounding the Gupta brothers' dealings with Zuma.
The agency did so, it is claimed, by inventing a cynical approach -- underpinned by bogus news sites and false Twitter accounts -- to blame the government's failure to assist poor blacks not on the corruption and cronyism of its direction, but on the supposed greed of an elite group of 'white monopoly' capitalists.
Talented high flyer Victoria Geoghegan has been branded -- as one major Johannesburg journalist put it to David Jones this week -- 'the most detested woman in South Africa'
Among those targeted was a luxury goods billionaire called Johann Rupert, the nation's fifth wealthiest man, that had been smeared as 'the leading individual stealing South Africa's riches'.
The richest girl in the country, investment queen Magda Wierzycka -- of Polish extraction -- has been accused of 'economic terrorism' and 'entirely racism'.
None of these slurs had any foundation in reality. Politicians and journalists who openly opposed the campaign were grotesquely and menacingly hounded by internet trolls. One ANC politician by the ruling party, that refused to back Zuma in a no-confidence vote over his connections to the Guptas, found herself wrongly accused of having murdered her husband, years ago, and sleeping around.
Finally, these detrimental strategies caused mass protests such as those which saw posters of Bell Pottinger's Geoghegan waved in disgust.
Not only has this set back race relations in South Africa, but it's also witnessed the collapse and collapse of the London PR firm.
Today, Victoria Geoghegan has lost her job, and Bell Pottinger was pressured into liquidation. The scandal has also caused immense damage to KPMG, whose entire South African ruler was forced to resign this month over their auditing work for the Guptas -- which can most charitably be described as laissez-faire.
Currently, McKinsey, the multi-national business advisor with offices in London, has become the latest to be pumped into the maelstrom. McKinsey denies the allegations.
With every significant bank now refusing to manage Gupta company balances, the South African people in ferment and allegations emerging from the day, it appears unlikely that these companies will be the last to be touched by the fall-out from 'Guptagate.' All this begs one question. Who are these brothers?
Their father, Shiv, was a successful businessman who offered spices and conducted a co-op chain in their hometown of Saharanpur, 120 miles north of Delhi. He made sufficient money to fear his children might be kidnapped and employed bodyguards to accompany them daily on their journey to personal school.
This might explain their obsession with security: they employ British firm G4S as well as their very own ex-military minders, one of whom menacingly warned me away when I predicted at the family compound, which occupies nearly an entire block in the Johannesburg area of Saxonwold.
From 1993, Shiv Gupta was looking to expand beyond India, so he delivered his middle son, Atul, then 23, to look for fresh openings. Following a brief foray into China, he pitched up in South Africa -- subsequently emerging from apartheid and ripe with commercial chances.
By his account, he came in Johannesburg with #80,000 in money which he used to start a shoe shop, which soon collapsed, and a computer assembly business, which fared better. He called it Sahara, possibly taking the title from his home city or, as critics claim, to piggy-back about the reputation of one of India's biggest conglomerates, Sahara India Pariwar, that has no connection with the Guptas.
It is thought they began cozying up to prominent politicians by attending functions at the Indian consulate.
Also, they found a job for his twin sister, Duduzile.
Atul says he used them only on merit. He's explained Duduzane as 'disciplined, organized and systematic...a fully-fledged, developed businessman.' Leading journalist Haffajee, who has broken many stories about the Guptas, offers a different view.
She is convinced that the brothers, headed to the 'Machiavellian genius' Ajay, plotted a long-term strategy to tap into the riches of the country by befriending South Africa's probably next leader -- and knew Jacob Zuma's private conditions could make him especially vulnerable to temptation.
'This wasn't just incidental,' she informed me this week. 'The Guptas exercised that there would be this huge quantity of money washing around (for country jobs and government tenders) and they recognized Zuma's requirement to provide security for his big family.'
Whatever the fact, the contracts soon started to gravitate towards the Guptas' company Sahara Computers, along with other companies under their holding company, Oakbay.
One of the oldest coups was to acquire a contract to provide computers to schools in Gauteng province, a part of an initiative to teach children to find work in the 'new market.' Eyebrows were raised once Sahara Computers beat the likes of Dell and Hewlett-Packard to win the greatest share of their multi-million-pound tender --and well they should've been.
Six decades later, none of the faulty computers they had provided was linked to the world wide web, and the scheme was eventually scrapped. They also moved into other businesses, including coal mining, engineering, arms manufacturing, real estate and leisure.
Subsequently, as their empire expanded, they chose to become athletic benefactors. Cricket fans were appalled when hallowed grounds such as Newlands were prefixed with 'Sahara,' and cringed if their Test heroes were paraded through the Guptas' home town in India wearing orange turbans.
The Springboks rugby team was similarly commercialized to your brothers' benefit.
But it was after Zuma took office in 2010 that their fortunes went stratospheric. By this past year, Atul alone was rated South Africa's seventh richest man with a #600million fortune. That was only a quote according to his Stock Exchange recorded assets. He and his brothers are believed to have hundreds of millions more overseas.
The hold that the Gupta brothers had on the President came under scrutiny in April 2013, when a radio news reporter was tipped off about odd goings-on at the Waterkloof air force base, near Pretoria. The base is strictly off-limits to all commercial aircraft.
That morning, though, a chartered Indian jet had landed there along with its own 200 passengers were being greeted with a smiling Atul Gupta.
Relatives and friends of the Guptas were coming for the marriage of the niece. It had been reported that immigration officials were bussed into stamp passports, even though the normal customs rules were believed to have been waived.
The Guptas, meanwhile, said in a statement in the time they had got permission throughout the Indian High Commission since the normal Johannesburg airport for charter flights was too little to accommodate the Airbus A330.
The flagrant breach of protocol caused a public outcry, however, the Guptas confronted no action.
The wedding itself was a ludicrously ostentatious, four-day extravaganza at the nearby Sun City hotel, attended by Bollywood stars like Anil Kapoor, star of this movie Slumdog Millionaire (although perhaps not by President Zuma, who is thought to have remained away to prevent further flak within the airbase saga).
One of those who accepted an invitation had been KPMG's then South African leader executive Moses Kgosana. They are words that have come back to haunt him and, more damagingly, his allegedly upstanding business.
For it recently emerged, through the leaked Gupta emails that the marriage -- that cost #2million -- was compensated for with public money.
KPMG's auditors wrote off the #2million as a business expense.
KPMG said that no evidence of corruption or illegal actions by staff had been discovered. But the firm did acknowledge that its work done for the Guptas 'fell short of our standards'.
This week, Guptas' spokesman Gary Naidoo didn't respond to my requests for a reply to the numerous accusations against them.
The smart money says Zuma -- already fighting a court battle to stop the reinstatement of 783 unrelated corruption charges dropped just before he became president -- will slough off the hook, as he has several times before.
The sole bank still doing business with the Guptas is India's Bank Of Baroda, but it states it'll foreclose all their company Oakbay accounts from the end of September. The Guptas will then don't have any banking facilities.
According to specialists, this will make it impossible for them to continue trading and the only option will be to sell all of their South African companies. Many think they can board one of the jets and relocate to Dubai, where they recently purchased the emirate's priciest property -- a #30million palace decorated according to their glitzy taste.
However it plays out, one thing is certain. The British firms whose reputations have been trashed by this sorry saga -- and maybe others as yet unnamed -- have to rue the day they took the shilling in the brothers that 'hijacked' a nation