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Gupta saga: Zuma lays low as united ANC vents

The anger surrounding the illegal landing of the Gupta family's private aircraft at the Waterkloof Air Force base in Pretoria has united competing factions in the ruling alliance.

Zuma, who is known to be close to the Gupta family through a network of businesses involving his children, has not uttered a word about the debacle, but Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane on Thursday said the president would not attend the nuptials.

The Guptas have benefited immensely from state-owned enterprises such as Transnet, Eskom and Telkom. These parastatals have pumped millions of rands into the family's pro-government newspaper's breakfast meetings, featuring Zuma and his Cabinet ministers.

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ANC national executive committee member and former Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni took his anger to Twitter. "Waterkloof Air Force Base thing … Am I dreaming or is this true? What on earth is this? Ag sis man, please somebody take action."

The ANC Youth League national task team convenor Mzwandile Masina commented on his Facebook status that the government should cut business ties with the Guptas and called for the immediate withdrawal of state security for wedding guests.

"Much has been reported about this controversial family, it's time … we unite and fight their influence. It can't be correct that we allow this nonsense to continue. I call upon patriotic South Africans who have been invited as guests to boycott this wedding, including our government. I call for [the] immediate withdrawal of security arrangements … for these arrogant looters. Away with these opportunist Guptas, away. We should lobby society and our institutions to stop doing business with these Hollywood like thugs".

In an official statement issued on Thursday, Masina welcomed Zuma's decision not to attend the wedding.

"We call upon all progressive South Africans, particularly ANC leaders and deployees in government who were invited to the wedding, to follow President Zuma's example as their attendance will be viewed as condoning this security breach. We welcome the investigation by the department of international relations.

Compromising national sovereignty
"This act of gross negligence and misconduct can't go unpunished and those responsible must be criminally prosecuted and dismissed," he said.

The ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe on Tuesday released a strongly worded statement condemning the bravado with which the Guptas landed at the base, compromising national sovereignty.

"We demand that those who are responsible for granting access to land aircraft in our country also explain the basis upon which such permission was granted … to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base. Those who cannot account must be brought to book. The African National Congress will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the republic, its citizens and its borders," said Mantashe.

A senior alliance leader told the Mail & Guardian that the latest scandal involving the Gupta family was the last straw. He said it had not only divided public opinion but the broader liberation movement as well.

"All the comrades are unhappy, in the SACP [South African Communist Party], Cosatu and the ANC. They are coming out and saying the family is a liability and we need to disassociate ourselves from them. The cracks are widening in the alliance over this matter. Gwede is livid and feels aggrieved by this. There's going to be a bust-up in the upcoming ANC NEC [national executive committee meeting]. It is a catalyst for 2017."

Black industrialists
A former close ally of Zuma told the M&G he was surprised Zuma had not taken responsibility for the Gupta's landing debacle.

"Look at the National Key Point Act, he is the custodian of the NKPA. The buck stops with him. This is disgusting," he said.

A senior ANC leader in government said there was a debate raging in the ANC to push government to empower black industrialists in order to rely on them rather than people who were never part of the liberation struggle.

"We need an antithesis to deal with the likes of the Gupta family. At the end of these massive multibillion-rand strategic infrastructure projects taking place, we should be able to produce our own local bourgeoisie who will be able to influence our politics," said the leader.

"Under president Thabo Mbeki, you had wealthy businessmen like Mzi Khumalo, Saki Macozoma and Andile Ngcaba who sustained the Mbeki government. Who are the elite supporting Zuma's government? If there were black elites, we wouldn't be as vulnerable as we are now. We have to look into this because the Guptas may sink the ANC and Zuma. The Chinese businessmen cost former Zambian president Rupiah Banda an election."

State protocol, in short

The now suspended chief of state protocol, Vusi Bruce Koloane, was interviewed by Corporate Golf magazine in December 2012, revealing how he tries to smooth the path for President Jacob Zuma.

"As chief of state protocol, what does your job entail?" he was asked.

Koloane responded with vigour: "In a nutshell, I take care of the president's international business. I host his foreign guests, facilitate conferences and events hosted by South Africa, co-ordinate the opening of Parliament and I travel with him, leaving before him to make sure that details like security, venues, travel routes and hotels are ready for him."

Koloane said he had picked up his love of golf when he served as consul general to China. After that he served as a South African ambassador to Spain, before he was appointed chief of state protocol in September 2011 – Glynnis Underhill

Envoy knows the ropes

The role of the Indian high commissioner to South Africa, Virendra Gupta, in the landing of the plane hired by the Gupta family at Waterkloof Air Force base is now in the spotlight.

He was not available for comment and will apparently only be back in his office on Monday.

Although it is likely that he too has joined the Gupta wedding celebrations at Sun City, he will probably ride out the heat over the incident.

Gupta has lengthy experience in the Indian foreign service, which he joined in 1977. The online biography released by his office reveals he has dealt with wide-ranging issues such as international security, Southern Africa, disarmament, trade and investment promotion, energy security and multilateral affairs. And, like the now suspended chief of state protocol in South Africa, Vusi Bruce Koloane, golf is one of his hobbies. – Glynnis Underhill

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Charles Molele
Guest Author
Matuma Letsoala
Guest Author

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