African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Gwede Mantashe on Tuesday dismissed criticism of the Gupta family’s political influence as “racial prejudice”.
“Why is it an issue when an Indian company partners with other beneficiaries of BEE? … That is where the racial prejudice is,” Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg, adding that this was his personal view.
He was briefing the media on the ANC’s national working committee meeting on Monday, saying reports on the Gupta family influencing President Jacob Zuma did not come up for discussion.
Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, and businessman Rajesh Gupta are reportedly directors and shareholders in a deal with the China Railway Construction Corporation, which could see them benefit hugely from the government’s R550-billion rail infrastructure programme.
Mantashe said criticism of the Gupta brothers’ business empire and their partnerships with black business people were based on racism.
“All of a sudden, because it is a Gupta, it’s a big deal, because it’s an Indian company. The owners do not look white enough to partner with BEE officials.”
The same could be said about partnerships with Chinese companies, added Mantashe.
“Because Indians and Chinese are not white enough … that’s why I talk about racial prejudice.”
‘Irresponsible fishing expedition’
Meanwhile, the government on the weekend said that journalists inquiring as to whether certain ministers had visited the Gupta family at their home was a violation of privacy and unethical.
Government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said certain ministers’ offices had received media inquiries asking whether their ministers had been to the Gupta family’s house or knew of any ministers who had been.
“Government views these questions as an irresponsible fishing expedition that amounts to the violation of the privacy of ministers,” Manyi said.
“There is no law in South Africa that prohibits anyone, including Cabinet ministers, from visiting the house of any person they so wish. Freedom of association is a constitutionally enshrined right enjoyed by all citizens.”
“The violation of the right to privacy and freedom of association because of the urge by some media to publish any hearsay as news and scandalise innocent relationships as corrupt is, in our view, devoid of ethical journalism,” he said.
The Sunday Times recently reported that a revolt was brewing in the ANC and its alliance partners against the influence of the Gupta family over President Jacob Zuma and his government. The Gupta brothers — Atul, Ajay and Rajesh, also known as Tony — are said to wield so much power that they often summon Cabinet ministers and senior government officials to their family compound in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.
The Guptas, through family spokesperson Gary Naidoo, dismissed the allegations as “rubbish” and said they were an attempt to “denigrate” Zuma and his office. — Sapa