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Gupta citizenship tale full of holes

The news cycle is so hectic at present that, if you blink, you may miss the latest piece of the jigsaw to fall into the public space. There is, furthermore, hardly any time to hit the pause button to puzzle through what we already know.

But it is crucial to do exactly that. That is why I want to raise some questions about the Ajay Gupta citizenship debacle.

There is an interesting battle emerging between the department of home affairs and Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba. His communications team is hoping to get him out of the spotlight on the debacle surrounding the citizenship granted to members of the Gupta family by him many years ago in his old job as home affairs minister.

The minister, back in May 2015, decided to override a decision by his then director general not to grant Ajay Gupta and other family members naturalisation rights. They had not met the residency requirements.

But Gigaba decided, in terms of powers vested lawfully in him as home affairs minister, that exceptional circumstances existed to justify ignoring the eligibility requirements.

But we know from the overwhelming evidence that has emerged that the Gupta family do not contribute to our country. They simply suck us dry. They are not businessmen who help us to grow our economy and reduce unemployment.

They are predators who loot from the state and subvert our constitutional order by in effect taking over key functions of our executive, courtesy of corrupted individuals in the governing ANC and in the state.

What possible exceptional circumstances could have existed that justified in law why Gigaba decided to override the rational decision of his own director general? Surely stealing from South Africans and subverting constitutional processes are reasons to expel a family rather than to grant them citizenship rights?

Surely Gigaba should have concluded that the Guptas were undesirables rather than exemplary candidates for citizenship?

Remember that by the time Gigaba had granted them citizenship in 2015 we already knew publicly quite a lot about their odious connections to scandalously unlawful events, such as the landing of a plane at the Waterkloof Air Force Base for a civilian purpose in April 2013. It’s just plain disingenuous to imagine that the then home affairs minister was simply rubber-stamping a bona fide application by an unknown businessman that had landed on his desk through normal application processes.

A draft statement drawn up by home affairs recently came into my possession. It aimed to explain the chronology of the events pertaining to Ajay and his family’s naturalisation. The document confirmed that he is not a citizen. He never renounced his Indian citizenship. India does not allow dual citizenship. Consequently the administrative decision by Gigaba to grant him citizenship was not effected because it was conditional on renunciation of his Indian citizenship.

This is where the document gets weird. Ajay’s mother, wife and two children were granted citizenship. But nothing in the document explained whether they had renounced their Indian citizenship.

When I asked home affairs to comment, a spokesperson said they were not yet ready with a final statement and so did not wish to comment.

What also did not make sense is that the same draft explanatory document suggested that Ajay’s wife, mother and children had to be given citizenship to keep the family unit intact.

That doesn’t make sense either. They were already permanent residents. That means the family unit was already intact. You do not need to grant them citizenship rights to keep them all together in one physical space. So that rationale does not get you very far.

But the most important gap in this document is the glaring omission to explain what facts informed the decision to grant Ajay South African citizenship in the first place. It does not tell us what the exceptional circumstances were.

Which brings me back to the beef between Gigaba’s people and home affairs. It is not surprising that home affairs ran away from the grip of Parliament this week. Why
should they take the fall for the political head who took decisions years back?

It is a hot potato, but Gigaba cannot avoid accountability. The fact that he has since moved to other parts of the state is irrelevant. He must be dragged before Parliament to explain himself and to answer some tough questions.

It won’t be easy. Any chance of an innocent explanation for the granting of citizenship rights to Ajay and his family have to compete with a growing body of evidence dripping into the public space weekly of the closeness between Gigaba and the Guptas.

If he’s not writing to a state-owned enterprise board such as Denel to advance Gupta-linked businesses, his name crops up in the developing paper trail of how Gupta lackeys end up as advisers in key parts of the state. Given too the Guptas’ close proximity to President Jacob Zuma, there can be little doubt they approved Gigaba as finance minister, even though former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe might have been their first choice.

If Gigaba wants to save his reputation, and his ambition one day to be president of the ANC and of the country, he should unburden himself sooner rather than later. The window of opportunity to confess and rebuild his career is closing with every day of silence and obfuscation. Maybe it is already shut?

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Eusebius McKaiser
Eusebius McKaiser
Eusebius McKaiser is a political and social analyst at the Wits Centre for Ethics. He is also a popular radio talk show host, a top international debate coach, a master of ceremonies and a public speaker of note. He loves nothing more than a good argument, having been both former National South African Debate Champion and the 2011 World Masters Debate Champion. His analytic articles and columns have been widely published in South African newspapers and the New York Times. McKaiser has studied law and philosophy. He taught philosophy in South Africa and England.

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