What do the Guptas' employees say?

Employees of Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments marched to major banks on Tuesday to demand that the company's accounts be reopened. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Employees of Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments marched to major banks on Tuesday to demand that the company's accounts be reopened. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Employees working in companies belonging to the Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments knocked on the doors of three major South African banks on Tuesday in the Johannesburg CBD in a bid to prevent the closure of Oakbay accounts at these banks.

Wearing peak caps with ANN7 or Sahara written on them, between 200 and 300 employees headed to Absa, First National Bank and Standard Bank, fearing that the closure of Oakbay Investment accounts would stall their paychecks and put their lives on halt.

Protesters claim 7 500 South Africans will be “out of work at the end of May” should the banks stick to their decision to close the accounts. All three banks accepted the memorandum, with representatives saying they would respond at a later time.   

“Today we are marching to save our jobs,” the memorandum stated. “We do not understand why we must be the victims of a political game at the top.”   

The atmosphere in the crowd was energetic and hopeful. Inside the march, there were at least five sentiments that seemed to capture the employees’ thoughts around their controversial former employers and the state capture.   

1. We love Guptas!    
Men and women, old and young, weren’t too keen to chat about the political storm surrounding the Guptas, but those who did utter some comments about their bosses had nothing but love for the controversial family.   

One protester said that South African Gupta dissenters had a “political agenda” against the family, while another spoke about the work the family had done to create jobs.   

“I think it’s a positive thing for the Guptas to come back. They will invest more in this country, helping these people to further their opportunities,” said Elliot Msebenzi, an employee at Shiva Uranium.   

While South Africans standing outside the Oakbay umbrella have grown increasingly frustrated with the Gupta influence in government, particularly when it comes to bold job offerings in certain ministerial positions, the employees who marched have distanced themselves from the country’s woes in the face of the pending personal financial crises they may face.   

2. Whose fault is it anyway?  
Employees at the march stuck to their guns, and remained tight-lipped about why they were protesting in front of banks instead of holding Oakbay Investment management accountable.   

Standing before the banks, protesters swiveled the bank brands’ popular slogans against them, turning FNB’s “how can we help you”, Standard Bank’s “moving forward”, and Absa’s “today, tomorrow, together” into campaign slogans for their demands.   

3. What state capture?  
Protesters maintained that politics had nothing to do with the march, despite popular speculation that the protest would work towards oiling the Oakbay Investment propaganda machine by drawing sympathy for the plight of the company’s workers.   

“No comment” and “we’re here for our jobs” were the prevailing answers against any question regarding political opportunism in the protest for some top execs at Oakbay.   “We’re not political parties, we just want the banks to open our accounts, that’s it,” said Noma Mzope, an employee at Sahara Computers.   

The employees championed their march around the personal struggles they were predicting would result from the closure, distancing themselves from any greater issue that would affect South Africa’s political climate.

4.  Bills are being paid… for now   
One of the march leaders, Aphiwe Bukani, who works in the marketing division at ANN7 and The New Age newspaper, said that some employees had still received their paychecks on Tuesday.   

The greater concern, Bukani said, is watching their accounts begin to deplete throughout May with no coming notification that their income would be paid.   

While South Africans are looking towards May as a political moment heading closer to local government elections, the employees in companies under Oakbay are looking to the banks to make sure they can still pay their bills.   

5. Jobs, jobs, jobs  
At the centre of it all was a topic South Africans have long been deeply invested in – jobs. 

The primary defence for the Guptas resulted in the claim that they had created at least 7 500 jobs for employees in the various Oakbay Investment companies. Like political promises of years past, present, and most likely to come, it is the promise of jobs that has won the Guptas some votes from their employees – or at least, the votes of those who attended the march.   

It wasn’t all rosy support, however. According to BDLive, some people present at the march said they were forced to attend after a message circulated their offices. Bukani responded to the allegations by saying that people were still working in their offices under no threat as the march took place.   

What’s clear, however, is that the sentiments within the protest exist from those who were present. People who chose not to march may be taking their eye off the banks to place their qualms at doors closer to them.

 
Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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