SUNDAY TIMES - Zuma's friend now SA's richest black businessman
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Sunday Times News By DINEO TSAMELA and SABELO SKITI, 2016-12-11 00:00:00.0

Zuma's friend now SA's richest black businessman

Atul Gupta, the most prominent of the controversial Gupta brothers.
Image: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

President Jacob Zuma's close friend Atul Gupta is now the seventh-richest South African, according to the latest Business Times Rich List.

The 47-year-old Gupta, the most prominent of three brothers from the family who have been accused of using their close relations with Zuma to unfairly enrich themselves, has personal wealth valued at R10-billion.

His cracking of the top 10 on a Rich List that includes Shoprite's Christo Wiese, Glencore's Ivan Glasenberg and FirstRand's Laurie Dippenaar makes him South Africa's top black billionaire.

Mining mogul Patrice Motsepe, for years the leading black businessman on the list, is now ranked at 11th, with personal wealth valued at just over R9.5-billion.

The Rich List, which we publish in full this week in Business Times, is compiled by Who Owns Whom.

It is based on the value of disclosed directors' holdings in JSE-listed companies covering the period between December 2015 and November 30 this year.

The Guptas, who listed their investment vehicle - Oakbay Holdings - only in November 2014, previously did not feature.

At the end of November last year, Atul's stake in Oakbay was worth R16.48-billion, placing him in the dollar-billionaire ranks at $1.17-billion. However, Oakbay Holdings' shares have since declined by 31.2%, stripping him of this status.

Atul landed in South Africa from India in 1993 to scout for business opportunities for the family.

A year later he started Correct Marketing, a computer parts importer and distributor, which he began with a R1.2-million injection from his family back in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The company would later become Sahara Computers.

His meteoric rise up the business ladder has largely coincided with Zuma's presidency. The family now have interests in mining as well as print and broadcast media.

Gupta's close ties to Zuma saw him taking in the president's son Duduzane as a business partner - making him a multimillionaire along the way.

The family also employed one of Zuma's wives, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, and Duduzane's twin sister, Duduzile. Both later left the Gupta businesses.

Gupta companies are accused of benefiting from crucial government support, stemming from their proximity to Zuma.

Their enterprises and associates benefited from lucrative state contracts and dubious loans, such as the transaction that helped Oakbay purchase Uranium One's (later Shiva) mine in 2010.

Their newspaper, the New Age, has received hundreds of millions of rands in subscriptions, advertising and sponsorship from state-owned enterprises and government departments.

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report detailed how Eskom and the Department of Mineral Resources worked in the interests of another of Oakbay's subsidiaries, Tegeta Exploration and Resources, by allegedly squeezing Glencore out of its lucrative Optimum Coal Mine, which was later sold to Tegeta.

During Madonsela's investigation several senior politicians, civil servants and business people came forward with stories that exposed how the family ran an active programme to capture the government.

These included Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, who alleged in an affidavit that the family offered him the position of finance minister and more than R600-million in bribes.

This week, controversy around the family continued to swirl following Friday's revelation by former acting SABC CEO Phil Molefe that the family, with the help of SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, attempted to get a stake in the public broadcaster's Africa operations.

On Friday, Atul referred all questions to the family's spokesman, Gary Naidoo, but there had been no response at the time of going to print.

News that Atul is now among the top 10 richest South Africans shocked ANC stalwart and Anglo chairman Sipho Pityana.

"What is equally disturbing is that the Sunday Times assessment is probably just the tip of the iceberg," he said.

Atul's rise up the rich list is in stark contrast to the fortunes of other black businesspeople, whose presence in both the top 100 and top 10 has waned.

The overall number of black people on the top 100 list has dropped from 20 in 2007 to 12 this year.

Pityana described the regression of the black rich as yet another example of Zuma's dismal failure.

"It is clear that under Zuma's watch, black ownership of the economy is shrinking and the entire BEE project has regressed," said Pityana.

Black Management Forum president Mncane Mthunzi said the latest Rich List showed that there was a reversal of transformation in business.

"It's not surprising for us ... It vindicates the BMF, which has been saying transformation is being reversed, and the reality is we need more black executives with shareholding.

"Wealth can be created through ownership," Mthunzi said.

Analyst Duma Gqubule partly put the blame on the slow uptake in empowerment deals since 2008, the decline in mineral stocks and the continued confusion over the government's stance on what constitutes an empowered company.

"We need to sort out this slogan about once empowered, always empowered, especially in the mining and banking sectors," he said.

White men still dominate the top 200 with 157, with black men taking up just 35 spots.

tsamelad@sundaytimes.co.za, skitis@sundaytimes.co.za