South Africa is in a state of chaos and unrest ever since the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma on July 7. As riots, arson, violence and lootings escalate in the country, the Indian community living there faces dangers to their homes and businesses. In a desperate attempt to protect their businesses from looting, Indians have now stepped up their fight against the arsonists and looters.
Zuma, once known for his fight against apartheid, was imprisoned in the Estcourt Correctional Center for 15 months for disobeying court’s orders. Reportedly, he failed to testify before the judicial commission that was investigating accusations of corruption against him between 2009-2018. Several South Africans poured onto the streets to protest against the incarceration of Zuma and soon, those protests turned violent. Images and videos of rampant arson, shooting and loot emerged as the violence spilt over to the streets of Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provinces.
Interestingly, two-thirds of the 1.4 million strong Indian-origin population of South Africa lives and works in the KwaZulu-Natal province in Durban. With unbridled violence taking over the streets of the province, several images showed how Indians were taking up arms to defend themselves and their property.
As the violence continued unabated, South Africans took to Twitter to express their ire at the Indian community. There were several tweets that indicated that the corruption accused Gupta Brothers were being used as an excuse to target the Indian community.
Sample this. A South African man inciting violence and asking his brothers to remember how “Jacob Zuma told the country to Indian Monopoly Capital”. The picture that accompanied this tweet was of the Gupta Brothers.
Indians have often been targeted in African countries and reasons have been concocted out of thin air to justify the violence. One recalls how Idi Amin, on On August 7, 1972, had expelled Indians from Uganda. Several theories of WHY this happened has been floated over the years. Some say he had a dream, others, that he wanted to extract a pound of flesh from the British for not giving him arms to invade Tanzania. The more plausible theory is, however, that Idi Amin was a racist and that he wanted a convenient scapegoat to distract people from the debauchery that he had inflicted on his people.
It is entirely possible that on this occasion, Indians have just been caught in the violence, or, that they are being targeted after South Africans are using Gupta Brothers, terribly corrupt and entrenched, as a scapegoat. Either way, it becomes important to understand who the Gupta Brothers are and why they are today being used as the convenient excuse to reportedly target Indians in South Africa.
Who are the Gupta Brothers
The Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh Gupta as well as Atul’s nephews Varun and US-based Ashish and Amol – are a family that hails from Uttar Pradesh, Saharanpur. They migrated to South Africa in 1993. Atul founded Sahara Computers, the family’s first business in South Africa. Now, with a net worth of over $10 billion, the Gupta brothers own Coal mines, computers, newspapers, and a media outlet.
Interestingly, there are several allegations that have surfaced over the years about the Gupta brothers and Jacob Zuma being hands in gloves in the corruption that was rampant during his Presidency, so much so, that South Africans coined the term “Zuptas” for them. Over the years, there have also been several protests where South Africans said that they do not accepted the Gupta brothers as their “President”.
Bongi Ngema-Zuma, one of President Zuma’s wives, his daughter, Duduzile Zuma, and his son, Duduzane Zuma all worked in Gupta companies. The son, for example, was involved in several of the companies.
Zuma’s son is reported to be a director in many companies of Gupta brothers, and thus Zuma was accused of granting undue favours to Gupta brothers, piling personal fortunes for himself and his family. For example, there was one instance where Bank of Baroda, through its South African operations, gave a loan to Jacob Zuma’s fourth wife to buy a house. The loan was paid by companies owned by the Gupta brothers.
Helping Zuma’s wife pay a housing loan is lesser of the charges levelled against the Gupta brothers. There have been reports that Guptas were so influential and powerful in South Africa owing to their proximity to the Zuma family, that they even used to offer posts in the central government to politicians (fixing cabinet berths a la Radia tape controversy back in India) apart from winning government contracts for themselves.
Currently, there is also a red corner notice that has been issued against the Gupta brothers – Rajesh and Atul, as well as their wives, owing to their involvement in the corruption by Zuma.
Gupta brothers and their alleged links to Congress – An OpIndia investigation
While investigating the links between Zuma and the Gupta brothers, South African investigative portals AmaBhungane and DailyMaverick had stumbled upon his business relations with another controversial businessman called Piyoosh Goyal and in turn, Goyal’s business relations with Congress leader Kapil Sibal. Daily Maverick and AmaBhungane claim that the family of Kapil Sibal – the Congress leader, his wife Promila Sibal, and his son Akhil Sibal, who is also a lawyer – and families of Piyoosh Goyal and Gupta brothers took a chartered flight from Delhi to Mumbai to watch the final of the 2011 Cricket World Cup between India and Sri Lanka, a charge which was summarily denied by Kapil Sibal and his son.
Our independent investigation also showed that Kapil Sibal had acquired a defunct company from Piyoosh Goyal and an expensive piece of land for a nominal rate and the business dealings between the two were a little opaque. Following our investigation, Kapil Sibal’s refusal to answer our question and his subsequent u-turn from what he had told the South African journalists, Sibal had also threatened to sue OpIndia.
In 2018, after the OpIndia investigation, the Income Tax department had launched an investigation into the land deals of Kapil Sibal.
More links to politicians in India and the abuse of power in South Africa
On 30 April 2013, an Airbus A330-200 chartered aircraft run by Jet Airways carrying 217 guests from India was cleared to land at the South African Air Force base at Waterkloof for the wedding ceremony of Vega Gupta to Aakash Jahajgarhia. This event caused an uproar that led to the African National Congress (ANC) and other political parties as well as the South African National Defence Union denouncing this use of the air force base.
The ANC issued a statement calling for “those responsible for giving the family permission to come into the country without going through the normal channels be ‘brought to book’.
Interestingly, the person responsible for the fiasco in South Africa, the man who cleared the landing was later demoted, but, he had asserted that the landing was approved because of ‘sensitive official visits’. There was significant controversy over who were the politicians aboard this flight. It was later reported that Azam Khan, Mata Prasad Pandey and Shivpal Singh Yadav may have been onboard and had attended the South African wedding of the Gupta family.
In the aftermath of the event, India’s High Commissioner Virendra Gupta (not related to the Gupta family) said publicly that the Indian High Commission was given permission to land the plane at Waterkloof Air Force Base. He explained that the Commission communicated through its defence adviser with the chief of defence for foreign relations in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).
In India too, a Gupta brothers wedding in Auli, Uttarakhand in 2019 had raised alarm bells about how the fugitives managed to hold a wedding in India and also because of serious ecological concerns.
Gupta brothers and the investigation in India
In 2018, documents seized by the Income Tax department during raids at Gupta brothers properties in Dehradun and Saharanpur revealed that Rs. 100 crores which were spent on a Shiva temple in Saharanpur was used as a front to launder money by way of ‘donations’. The properties that were raided were in the middle of the South African scandal that involved Jacob Zuma. The suspicion was that they were bringing money into India.
“The Shiva project was a means to bring money back to India. Otherwise, there was no need to spend over Rs 100 crore for a temple of this size. The documents revealed an online transaction of Rs 22.67 crore made to the Gupta temple trust in 2015 by the Guptas’ employee Sanjay Grover, who worked in Dubai before his death. Grover also has an account in a private bank in Dehradun and that is also under scanner”, IT sleuths had said to Times of India.
The Times of India report said, “Investigations further revealed that Grover died in 2016, following which an I-T team quizzed his wife, Renu Grover, who lives in West Patel Nagar, Delhi, on Wednesday. The I-T official said, “In her statement, she clarified that her husband worked with the Guptas in Dubai and drew a salary of 26,000 Dirham (about Rs 4.59 lakh) per month and was not in a condition to give loan or donate Rs 22.67 crore”.
In 2018, IT sleuths had said that the process of attaching 30 properties had already been started by the government and that they are trying to identify 60 more properties that were mentioned in the documents seized by the IT department.
The conspiracy of silence around the Gupta brothers and their shenanigans is such that back in 2017, HSBC was accused of complicity in letting the businessmen transfer money out of SA. In fact, the peer had demanded an investigation into HSBC for criminal complicity in helping the Gupta brothers launder money.
Gupta brothers wanted to get Prime Minister Modi arrested in South Africa
Ahead of the 2018 BRICS summit, there were attempts by Islamist organisations and the Gupta brothers to have Prime Minister Modi arrested while he was on his Africa tour and ultimately, landed in Johannesburg to attend the summit.
The South African Kashmiri Action Group and the Muslim Lawyers’ Association had demanded the investigation, arrest and prosecution of PM Modi over his governance of Jammu and Kashmir. The motivated calls for arrest were based on the misplaced UN report on Kashmir that India had summarily and vehemently rejected. The Ministry of External Affairs had issued a statement saying “It is a selective compilation of largely unverified information. It is overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative.”
Interestingly, that the bid to derail the summit by legal applications of having Narendra Modi arrested was fuelled by the controversial businessmen of the Gupta family.
South African media outlet DailyMaverick had reported :
Building closer relations with India is probably somewhere on Ramaphosa’s to-do list, but at least he and Modi have in common a dislike for the Zuma-friendly Gupta family. During his 2016 state visit to South Africa, Modi snubbed a dinner at which he had heard some of the Gupta brothers would be present, and now some conspiracy theorists in the Indian High Commission in Pretoria reckon Gupta-friendly officials might be fuelling efforts to embarrass Modi, as payback.
While it is evident that the Gupta brothers are deeply entrenched in corrupt practices back in India and South Africa, for the South Africans to use the fugitives, who are now reportedly hiding in the UAE, to mount violent attacks against the Indian community only points towards the deep seated racism in South Africa against the community, also evidenced by the abuses being mounted online.