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Guptas given impression by Zuma, Motsoeneng that SA officials could be bought with a plate of curry: Zondo

23 June 2022 - 08:35
Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng has been ordered to pay back a R11.5m “success fee” awarded to him, plus interest.
Former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng has been ordered to pay back a R11.5m “success fee” awarded to him, plus interest.
Image: Masi Losi

Former president Jacob Zuma, former SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng and others gave the Guptas the impression that South Africans could be bribed with as little as curry for lunch.

That's according to chief justice Raymond Zondo who lamented the actions of those who portrayed South Africans to the Guptas as people whose loyalty can be easily bought.

Zondo said he was pained by evidence, especially by Rajesh Sundaram, who was privy to intricate details of the Gupta family’s dealings with the former president and cabinet ministers.

Sundarum, along with other Indian nationals, were brought illegally into the country by the controversial family to lead their project to establish television news channel ANN7.

State capture in numbers.
State capture in numbers.
Image: Nolo Moima

Sundarum attended high-level meetings with two of the Gupta brothers, Ajay and Atul, with Zuma and some government officials.

He testified about the close relationship the Gupta brothers had with Zuma and how he was shocked by the level of involvement a president had in the establishment of a news channel.

He said Zuma was highly involved in the conception phase of ANN7 to the extent that they met him three times to provide progress updates and seek his input.

Some of the meetings Sundarum attended with the Guptas were at Zuma’s official residence.

Zondo cites a passage in Sundarum’s book that he presented as evidence at the commission where he details how labour department inspectors tasked with checking the nationality of those employed at the Guptas' channel would be taken to lunch for warning the Guptas ahead of their visits.

In his book Sundarum states: “The Guptas seemed to know when the labour department was sending an inspector to the site. All Indian nationals would be moved away, and the inspectors would be taken to lunch afterwards. ‘It does not cost money to buy loyalty of an official in SA. All it takes is a free meal or a drink,’ Atul [Gupta] boasted to me once”.

Zondo said this, along with Motsoeneng proudly declaring during oral evidence at the commission about how he ate curry at the Gupta residence, really pained him.

“It is most painful to learn that someone from another country who came to our country and did the things that the Gupta family members did to us as South Africans in this country came to the conclusion that SA officials not only can be bribed but that they can simply be bribed by a free meal or a drink,” Zondo said in his report.

“That's how low the Guptas thought of us as South Africans. It must be because of the experience they gained from those South Africans with whom they had intimate dealings. Among them is obviously Mr Jacob Zuma. I cannot help but remember Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng's evidence in regard to the SABC and the MultiChoice contract because in his evidence Mr Motsoeneng told the commission how he enjoyed curry at the Gupta residence.”

Zondo said the level of Zuma’s involvement in the Gupta news channel was worrisome because his son Duduzane, who held a 30% shareholding in the company, was not that involved.

Zuma’s involvement, Sundarum told the commission, presented a clear conflict of interest as his son had a stake in the channel that would later do business with the state.

He said Zuma’s level of involvement prompted suspicions that the 30% said to be owned by his son in the company was actually owned by him.

“What Mr Sundaram says here raises the issue again why it was that Mr Duduzane Zuma who was said to own 30% of the shareholding in the Gupta TV station business had not attended any of the earlier meetings that Mr Sundaram had attended ... and yet his father, president Zuma was showing a lot of interest and devoting a lot of time to meetings with the Guptas on this TV station project? It certainly gives rise to the suspicion that the real shareholder was president Zuma and not Mr Duduzane Zuma,” Zondo said.

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