North West officials poke holes in Guptas' school 'donation' claims

12 September 2018 - 14:29
By Andisiwe Makinana
The Guptas's claims that they made donations to schools have been debunked by North West officials.
Image: Gallo Images/Business Day/Martin Rhodes The Guptas's claims that they made donations to schools have been debunked by North West officials.

North West government officials have debunked a claim by the Gupta family that it donated equipment to schools in the province and also ran a feeding scheme in some of the schools.

The Guptas allegedly mentioned this in a letter to the Department of Home Affairs as motivation for their application for early naturalisation‚ saying they were making “social contributions” to the value of R1-million. This was to show how committed they were to corporate social responsibility and social upliftment.

MPs were left fuming when home affairs portfolio committee chairman Hlomane Chauke told them that in the letter to the Home Affairs minister‚ Gupta-owned Oakbay claimed to be running a feeding scheme at local schools and that “some children in the North West ate KFC for the first time in their lives thanks to the company”.

Stephinah Semaswe‚ provincial head of Education and Sports Development‚ told the National Assembly's portfolio committee on home affairs that it was not true that the Guptas made donations to the schools. She said some of the schools on the supposed list of 77 schools that benefited from the family did not even exist.

Semaswe told MPs that Gupta-linked companies invited schools in the Bojanala region of the North West to take part in a “design competition” for a wedding invitation - to draw invitation cards to the infamous Gupta wedding held at Sun City in 2013.

Winning pupils and schools received “tokens of appreciation” from the companies. These ranged from crayons and hula hoops to sports equipment like soccer balls‚ netball balls‚ bibs and soccer cones‚ as well as monetary prizes between R1‚000 and R15‚000.

Semaswe also dismissed a claim that the company had painted two schools‚ saying it was only two classrooms that had been painted.

“It was a drawing competition and it indicated prizes that were going to be won. They even invited school principals to a lunch for prize-giving. So from where we are seated as a department‚ it is a token of appreciation‚” she said.

“We are not aware of any social responsibility by the Guptas or Oakbay in our schools. We are only aware of a competition.”

She also rejected the claims that Oakbay ran a feeding scheme or soup kitchen. “We’re not aware of any feeding scheme by Oakbay‚ except it's run by a company linked to them.”

Semaswe was appearing before the parliamentary inquiry into the Guptas’ early naturalisation alongside Sello Jonas Lehare‚ MEC for Education and Sports Development.

Lehare also dismissed the Guptas' claim that they donated to 77 schools in the province‚ saying his department's investigation found that only 68 of the schools were in the department's database - and only 33 of them received the prizes or tokens of appreciation.

He added that they found it interesting that the choice of schools that “benefited” were all close to Sun City.

MPs heard that a company called Sundown Ranch Sports wrote to school principals - bypassing the department‚ as is required by law - on behalf of another company‚ JIC Mining on April 15 2013 to invite their schools to take part in the competition.

A follow-up letter indicated the “themes” to be a well-wishing card‚ a congratulatory message and an invitation card.

The company later sent an email to schools reminding principals of a function where the gifts would be given to pupils and the schools as token of appreciation.

“This company secretly gained access to our province and quietly identified schools in and around Rustenburg and Moses Kotane - without the involvement of the department and any of its administrative levels‚ except for the principals‚” said Lehare.

Parliament also heard that Oakbay and its letterheads did not appear in any of the correspondence to the schools‚ although the department's initial investigation found that the two companies were linked to Oakbay.

The meeting was adjourned until 4pm‚ when senior Home Affairs officials will give their side of the story on the early naturalisation of some of the family's members.