Flamboyant businessman and socialite Kenny Kunene is the latest prominent figure linked to an online campaign that appears designed to support the Gupta family and the narrative that they are victims of â€œWhite Monopoly Capitalâ€, amaBhungane can reveal.
Recent media reports and research by data analysts have begun to uncover a web of fake twitter accounts and real, but strident opinion sites peddling a remarkably consistent narrative that aims to discredit key figures seen as standing in the way of Gupta family interests.
Enter Weekly XposÃ© – a website set up on November 16 last year and registered in the name of Thapelo Kenneth Kunene.
This week Kunene confirmed to amaBhungane that he is the founder and funder of the website.
He added that Weekly XposÃ© aims to deliver ethical journalism and that it was undergoing a trial phase while â€œa team is being put togetherâ€ to run it.
Kunene attempted to pre-empt stories about his involvement following queries by amaBhungane and the Mail & Guardian this week, by publishing an article on the site on Thursday, portraying it as a straight-forward business initiative.
However, he earlier betrayed sensitivity about being linked to Weekly XposÃ©: according to the M&G, Kunene initially denied being behind the site.
On Wednesday night he called amaBhunganeâ€™s reporter and threatened to â€œfuck you upâ€.
A closer look at the site suggests that Kunene, who was jailed for six years in 2002 for his role in a Ponzi scheme, is the latest high-profile individual to throw his lot in with what appears to be a media offensive aimed at backing President Jacob Zuma and his Gupta allies and delegitimising their political opponents, especially at national treasury.
Other prominent figures he now joins include former government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi â€“ one of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhanâ€™s fiercest public critics â€“ and Pinky Khoabane, author of Uncensored Opinion and a regular columnist in Gupta-owned media outlet The New Age.
Although it has a more legitimate veneer and publishes regular wire articles, Weekly XposÃ©â€™s back story closely resembles sites such as Voetsek Blog, Khoabaneâ€™s Uncensored Opinion and Black Opinion, associated with the Black First Land First movement of Andile Mngxitama, a Gupta acolyte.
All churn out articles on â€œwhite monopoly capitalâ€ and appear to form part of a social media community that also includes the Guptasâ€™ New Age and ANN7 TV news channel.
Their pro-Zuma, pro-Gupta message, in turn, is amplified by fake twitter accounts.
All these sites brand critics of Zuma and the Guptas as agents of â€œwhite monopoly capitalâ€.
The internet domain name registration details of three sites – Weekly XposÃ© , Voetsek Blog and Uncensored Opinion – can be linked indirectly to Gupta interests via a certain Himanshu Tanwar.
Tanwar is a former marketing manager of the Guptaâ€™s IT company, Sahara Computers.
The email address linked to Weekly XposÃ© is [email protected]
The same telephone number â€“ 0613033889 â€“ was used in registering both Weekly XposÃ© and Voetsek Blog.
This appears to be an old number for Tanwar, as the WhatsApp profile associated with the number carries a photograph of an individual who bears a striking resemblance to his photographs on LinkedIn and Facebook.
There is some indication that Tanwar might also have been involved in setting up the Uncensored Opinion site, which was registered with an email address that hints at his first name, [email protected]
Tanwar declined to confirm or deny that he was involved in setting up all three sites. Khoabane could not be reached for comment.
When pressed about Tanwarâ€™s role in Weekly XposÃ©, Kunene said that he was hired because of his technical expertise as an independent software technician.
He said Tanwar simply helped to set up the site and had no role beyond that.
In July 2016, amaBhungane reported that Tanwar was connected to a controversial R800-million Transnet contract involving Gupta-linked company Futureteq.
The Guptas denied they or their companies had any share in Futureteq, although at the time the company was operating from Saharaâ€™s premises and was 50%-owned by the ex-head of new business development for a sister company, Sahara Systems .
According to Tanwarâ€™s LinkedIn page, he was Futureteqâ€™s digital transformation consultant while working at Sahara.
Tanwar officially left Sahara in May last year.
When contacted by amaBhungane, Tanwar claimed that he was no longer employed by the Guptas and was helping set up websites such as Weekly XposÃ© as a freelancer, before hanging up. He did not respond to further queries.
Attempts to get comment from the Gupta family were unsuccessful before publication.
Kunene has also come to the fore in the controversy surrounding the suspension and ultimate sacking of The Citizen editor Steven Motale.
The Citizen charged that Motale was fired as a result of a â€œbreakdown of trustâ€ that was â€œsolely due to Motaleâ€™s actions and failure to follow proceduresâ€.
But the context for Motaleâ€™s dismissal was his decision to publish a number of articles that appeared to lean heavily on an anti-treasury, pro-Gupta narrative.
One of them, published under the headline â€œJonas is a Liarâ€, referred to deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who had publicly stated that the Guptas offered him the position of finance minister.
The article, for which Motale was made to apologise, was based on potentially defamatory remarks by a single leaked source.
AmaBhungane has now established that Motale and Kunene registered two companies together in mid-2016 â€“ Kusema Consulting and Kusema Media Group â€“ four months before Motale was suspended.
Motale admitted to amaBhungane that the relationship was not declared to The Citizen, which appears to be a requirement of Motaleâ€™s employment contract, disclosed during his recent Labour Court challenge to his suspension and dismissal.
The Labour Court overturned Motaleâ€™s dismissal, finding that The Citizen had not followed the correct procedures, but, he remains suspended pending a disciplinary hearing.
Motale has defended the seemingly pro-Gupta articles published in The Citizen as being in the public interest, and has denied that anyone tried to unduly influence him in his editorial decision-making.
The Citizenâ€™s publisher, Eureka Zandberg, said that the newspaperâ€™s employees were not permitted to engage in other business activities.
â€œIn order to do so they would require written approval. He didnâ€™t ask for it and I didnâ€™t give it,â€ Zandberg said.
On the question of his business relationship with Kunene, Motale said the companies were not operational and that he had â€œnot made a centâ€ from them.
In an interview this week, Kunene acknowledged a long-standing friendship with Motale, while initially denying that they had business ties.
Kunene also told amaBhungane that he paid Motaleâ€™s legal fees in the Labour Court matter, though the latter denied the claim.