How the Guptas got school children to draw invitations for Sun City wedding

An investigation by the North West education department has revealed that a company linked to the Gupta family handed out cash prizes to school children who participated in a “drawing competition” to design wedding invitations for the infamous Sun City wedding in 2013.

According to North West MEC for education Sello Lehari and head of department Stephinah Semaswe the department had no idea that a Gupta company called JIC Mining, which is linked to Oakbay Investments, had approached schools and suggested that a competition be held for the design of wedding invitations.

Semaswe said that the department had confirmed the link between Oakbay and JIC Mining.

The startling revelation emerged in Parliament on Wednesday, while Lehari and Semaswe were testifying at the inquiry into the Gupta’s citizenship by the portfolio committee on home affairs.

“I can say with honesty that these companies that are alleged to have done these competitions with our schools did so without the permission of the head of the department,” Semaswe told MPs under oath.

Ordinarily, in order for a company to work with a school they would have to approach the head of department and receive permission in order to approach the school, Semaswe said.

Yet, for five years JIC Mining’s involvement in the schools had gone unnoticed, according to the testimonies from Lehari and Semaswe.

Primary school children, most of them in Moses Kotane municipality in the North West, which is close to Sun City, were given R1 000 in “cash prizes”, according to the department’s report to Parliament.

The overall winner was given R10 000 and the pupil’s teacher received R5 000.

In total, Vega Gupta — a niece of one of the infamous brothers — was married in an extravaganza that reportedly cost R30-million at the five-star Palace Hotel.

“But I never attended that marriage,” Lehari added as some MPs chuckled.

A list of 77 schools are said to have benefited from “donations” by JIC Mining, but Lehari told Parliament that their investigation had only found 68 schools which benefited. Lehari and Semaswe testified that they only became aware of JIC Mining’s activities after Parliament contacted them to appear at this inquiry in May 2018.

Lehari said that the donations were a “token of appreciation” from the Guptas to the schools who participated in the competition. They included sports kits and equipment and hula hoops.

A lunch was also served for the pupils and teachers, where the “tokens of appreciation” were dished out.

MPs grilled Lehari and Semaswe on how it was possible that they did not know about the donations until now. There was also concern that JIC Mining had successfully contacted the schools and engaged them in the competition without the department’s knowledge and permission. Semaswe replied that an investigation is underway to determine what went wrong.

The pair made the second and third submissions of the day to Parliament and a total of eight witnesses are expected to be heard on Wednesday. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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