Gigaba defends Gupta citizenship – calls media outrage ‘unfortunate sideshow’

13 June 2017 - 19:03 By Katharine Child
Newly appointed Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba addresses the media, at the Treasury offices in Pretoria CBD, on the countries downgrade to junk status by ratings agency Standard and Poor's.
Newly appointed Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba addresses the media, at the Treasury offices in Pretoria CBD, on the countries downgrade to junk status by ratings agency Standard and Poor's.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Times

Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba has confirmed he gave Ajay Gupta and his family early citizenship and that the letters circulated on Monday by Julius Malema were "genuine".

But Gigaba said in a statement on Tuesday there was "nothing untoward" in his actions in granting citizenship to the Gupta family when he was Minister of Home Affairs. This is despite the family not having stayed in the country long enough to apply for naturalisation.

Gigaba called the media outrage an "unfortunate sideshow".

“We have no doubt this has been handled by the book in terms of our laws‚” he said.

It is not true that he “opened the gates” for the Gupta family he said‚ referring to The Times' newspaper media headline.

"The Gupta family has been permanent residents in South Africa since 2008.”

Furthermore‚ there is no “bombshell” in relation to this matter‚ given that everything was done within the prescripts of the law‚ according to a statement from Treasury where Gigaba is now minister

"The granting of naturalisation certificates of this nature is not unusual. Similar courtesies have been extended to prominent businessmen‚ including executives of multi-nationals‚ and sports people. There is no impropriety on the part of the Minister in relation to how the application in question has been handled‚" said his spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete in a statement.

It is almost impossible to get early citizenship even if one is a euro billionaire with holdings in the country‚ said immigration practitioner Leon Isaacson. His company has represented three cases for citizenship with dollar and euro billionaires who employ South Africans and have vast investments in the country but all three were turned down.

The statement complains that the media is worrying about the saga when economic growth is needed.

"It is‚ therefore‚ unfortunate that the focus of the nation is diverted towards spurious sideshows when the country is faced with massive economic challenges.

“The Minister calls on all sectors of South African society to channel their energies on the urgent priority of boosting economic growth and rebuilding confidence in the economy following the credit-rating downgrades."

In the interest of transparency‚ Gigaba has requested the Department of Home Affairs to make the motivation pertaining to this particular application to the media‚ Tshwete said.

Isaacson noted that the documents granting citizenship are unusual. The letter from Malusi Gigaba granting Ajay and his family citizenship is vague and does not name the people being granted citizenship.

"Citizenship documents are very specific and name the individual‚" Isaacson said.

The letter grants the whole family citizenship. "The law does not make provision for this as citizenship is given to individuals‚" said Isaacson

TimesLIVE reported earlier in the day that Gigaba‚ when he was home affairs minister‚ appeared to have bent over backwards and to award the Gupta family citizenship‚ according to letters leaked by the Economic Freedom Fighters.

One of the letters released by the EFF‚ which appeared to bear Gigaba's signature‚ was dated May 30‚ 2015. In it Gigaba wrote to Ajay Gupta to tell him that the family's representations had resulted in their application for citizenship being successful.

“I have decided by the virtue of the powers vested in me under the South African Citizenship Amendments Act to waive the residential requirements in regards to your application for naturalisation and grant you early naturalisation‚" the letter read.

But five months earlier the then director-general of Home Affairs‚ GG Hlatshwayo‚ had written to the family refusing their application on the grounds that they had not lived in South Africa for the required five years.