THE POWER OF THE GUPTAS
Of everything that is wrong about the Waterkloof Gupta scandal or the ‘Guptakloof’– one thing this scandal has staggeringly illustrated is the risk of havingJacob Zuma as our country’s president. The scandal epitomises how a presidentof a nation can become a national security threat.
While the president has a right to choose who he befriends, it is ofnational concern when his friendships interfere with matters of state. Thepresident’s relationship with the Guptas poses a threat to national securityand makes him a national liability.
That the Guptas have been unduly benevolent to the president and hisfamily is well-known. The two, Zuma and the Guptas, have – according to theGupta’s family spokesperson – a ‘warm’ relationship.
Zuma’s son, Duduzane, is a business partner of the Guptas, while one of thepresident’s wives, has a house, also in Waterkloof, financed by the Guptas.
The question that arises is what do the Guptas get in return or at thevery least, what do they expect from Zuma?
We know, from history, that Zuma is not rich. He has had many financialtroubles in the past, including having to borrow money to pay for a car wash.
Zuma’s now powerful position of President of the Republic and of theANC, is everything he is worth. His privileged position, gives him power todispense patronage. Stripped of the positions he holds, Zuma is worthless.
So, by adopting Zuma’s children and bank rolling his girlfriends, theGuptas enjoy a rare privilege of proximity to power.
They also have power over Zuma as they are responsible for the welfareof his family. Thus, the Guptas are to Zuma, what social development is tomillions of poor people. In a way, they dispense social grants to Zuma’s family,albeit more lucrative than state grants.
But if power is all Zuma has, what do the Guptas want to do with thispower? By befriending the Guptas, Zuma has appropriated his power to them andas a result, the Guptas have the rare privilege of pulling strings ornamedropping whenever they want someone to do things for them.
Thus, to the Guptas, Zuma’s name and more importantly their relationshipwith him, is a magic wand that makes everything possible, including landing aprivate chartered aeroplane in Waterkloof.
As a result, the Guptas have become so powerful that they can tellgovernment ministers and officials what to do.
So powerful are they that they can instruct and parade on nationaltelevision, such hapless Ministers as Malusi Gigaba at their family wedding,even amidst public outrage over the Waterkloof scandal. The attendance ofgovernment ministers to the Guptas wedding was tantamount to giving the publica middle finger.
It is precisely this warm relationship that the Guptas have with ourpresident, and the power they have over him that has led to the Waterkloofsaga. The lucrative social welfare scheme that the Guptas are implementing forZuma’s family is exactly what has compromised our national security.
The implications of having a president whose relationships compromisesstate security are dire. Before you know it, decisions are made in the interestof powerful individuals rather than the public. State institutions, aredeployed in the direction of private interests.
But how do we know if Zuma had anything to do with the decision to allowthe Gupta’s the permission to land at Waterkloof military airbase?
In her authoritative book about corruption in Kenya, ‘Its our turn toeat’, Michela Wrong made a profound observation: “In countries where presidentshave done their best to centralise power, altering the constitutions, winningover the army and emasculating the judiciary, the notion that key decisions canbe taken without their approval is laughable.”
Many people would like to think that Michela Wrong’s observation doesnot apply to South Africa. They are mistaken.
Our president has done his best to centralise power. His cabinet iscarefully chosen, with key ministries led by his tribe’s men and women. Fromthis, the president is assured of protection from his tribe’s men and womenwhen he slips. Slips he does, and protecting him they do, always. They are fastin composing investigation committees whose reports are never made known to thepublic.
The call by the President and his ministers for investigations andinquiries as to who gave approval for the Guptas to land their aeroplane inWaterkloof is nothing but a scam to placate the public.
Following Thulas Nxesi’s Public Works report, no one still has confidencein government led investigations on these kinds of scandals.
If they could use remnants of apartheid laws to prevent people fromknowing the truth about Nkandla, would they not do the same with theinvestigations about Guptakloof? It will not be long before the report isdeclared a national key point – only accessible to the Guptas.
Meanwhile the notion that a key decision such as allowing the Guptas toland their private jet in a military base in Waterkloof can be taken withoutthe approval of the president is, indeed, laughable.
Yet, there are those who would like us believe that the Guptakloofdecision was purely administrative and that the president does not get involvedin these kinds of things.
This would be easy to believe if the Guptas were an ordinary family,with no ties with the President and his family. But no; the Guptas are apowerful rich family bankrolling our president’s family.
Besides, the South African constitution assigns the president with aresponsibility to act as the Commander in Chief of the Army. It is unthinkabletherefore that the army would do anything that compromises our countriesnational security without the knowledge of the Commander in Chief, thepresident.
At the very least, his office ought to have known. The ministers, whosejob is to act on behalf of the president, cannot claim ignorance on this matterinvolving the friends of the president.
But why did the Guptas choose Waterkloof?
It is not true that their plane was too big for Lanseria airport runways or that OR Tambo is too far from Sun City, the venue for the wedding. Waterkloofwas chosen for its significance – a symbol of state power.
When the Guptas decided to go to Waterkloof they wanted to show off totheir visitors from India that they (the Guptas) are indeed powerful in SouthAfrica and are running the country. They could not allow their visitors to minglewith the hoi polloi at OR Tambo airport.
Only powerful individuals, friends of the Commander in Chief of the Army,who are also bankroll his family, can land in a military airbase and receivestate sponsored VIP escort across two provinces, Gauteng and Northwest. TheGuptas are therefore reaping the fruits of their association with powerfulZuma.
But why does president Zuma allow himself to be surrounded by suchpeople as the Guptas, taking advantage of his friendship with them, and abusingstate resources?
Again, Michela Wrong provides sage advice: “If a leader is surrounded by shifty, moneygrabbing aides and family members, it is because he likes it that way. Theseare people he feels at ease with, whose working methods he respects. Far frombeing an aberration, the entourage is a faithful expression of the autocrat’sown proclivities.”
Our president’s proclivities are well known and we should therefore notbe surprised that he has a warm relationship with the Guptas. Remember, his mutuallybeneficial relationship with now convicted fraudster, Mr Schabir Schaik.
It is precisely the president’s relationships with shifty, moneygrabbing aids that makes him a national security threat. But for how long willthe ANC realise that Zuma has become a liability?
Malada is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Politics and Research.He is also member of the Midrand Group.