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Tue Nov 25 23:59:48 SAST 2014

Zille, Guptas row heats up

THABO MOKONE and QUINTON MTYALA | 31 January, 2013 00:01
DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane with party leader Helen Zille during a media briefing in parliament about allegations that Zille was given political funding by the Gupta family.
Image by: ANTON SCHOLTZ

DA leader Helen Zille has accused top managers of The New Age newspaper - owned by the politically connected Gupta family - of intimidation.

Zille yesterday accused the paper's owner, Atul Gupta, editor Moegsien Williams and CEO of the TNA media group Nazeem Howa of being "heavy-handed" and trying to bully DA federal chairman Wilmot James.

The Guptas, responding through Howa, have denied Zille's accusations.

Zille alleged that Gupta, accompanied by Howa and Williams, had visited DA federal chairman Wilmot James at his Cape Town home last year under the guise of discussing the possibility of a meeting with the party's caucus. During the meeting, she said, James was warned to stop making an enemy of The New Age.

She said James had provoked the men's ire by questioning the Department of Public Enterprises in parliament about the funding by parastatals of The New Age's high-profile breakfast meetings.

"The three adopted a heavy-handed approach. They suggested that it would be best if the DA did not make an enemy of The New Age. [James] said the party would continue asking questions in parliament about the use of public funds," Zille said.

Howa confirmed visiting James at his home but denied telling him to "back off" .

"We certainly discussed the narrow focus of the questions the DA was asking and suggested that the questions be broadened to include other newspapers.

"Mr James, in fact, conceded this point and undertook to raise it within the party structures," said Howa.

The Guptas are known to be close to President Jacob Zuma and their paper has been accused of being sympathetic to him and his government.

It has been revealed that Transnet and Eskom gave R27-million towards the costs of the breakfasts, which politicians, including Zuma, have been invited to attend and speak at.

Zille has been accused of accepting money from the Guptas. She has claimed that the donor was Stephan Nel, an executive director of IT firm Sahara Computers, which is owned by the Guptas. She said he had donated R300000 to the DA in his personal capacity, though the money was received while she was having dinner at the Gupta family complex in Saxonwold in 2009.

"We won't give Stephan Nel's money back; it was [from] a personal account. I can't help it if he's going to newspapers to invent stories," said Zille.

Zille said she had written to Zuma asking him to institute a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the funding model of The New Age. She has accused the newspaper of being used to channel funds to the ANC.

But the ANC reacted angrily to her claim late yesterday, accusing her of lying to the public.

"If Helen Zille was to be taken seriously she should have called for an investigation of all government expenditure on advertising, using all media.

"By narrowing the focus on The New Age, it is evident that she is not happy for having been exposed by the [newspaper] for who she is, a liar and an unreliable individual," said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu.

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