SA set to put the moves on the Guptas

Stalemate strategy backfires on tactician as team SA closes in

30 December 2017 - 00:02 By DAVE CHAMBERS and THANDUXOLO JIKA
The e-mails showed, for example, that the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma, a director of many of their companies, often hosted ministers and senior officials from state-owned enterprises at the luxurious Oberoi hotel in Dubai.
The e-mails showed, for example, that the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma, a director of many of their companies, often hosted ministers and senior officials from state-owned enterprises at the luxurious Oberoi hotel in Dubai.
Image: Gallo Images/City Press/Muntu Vilakazi

The world's longest tournament chess game happened in 1989, in Belgrade. It lasted 269 moves and ended in a draw.

Four years later, the Gupta family moved from India to South Africa, and a decade after that, in 2003, they met the founder of the Robben Island Chess Club. That encounter with then-deputy president Jacob Zuma launched a lengthy strategic game of an entirely different kind.

Despite Zuma's relentless defensive tactics, 2018 is set to deliver the beginning of the endgame in the shape of a commission of inquiry. With a chairman appointed by his successor as ANC leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, it is widely expected to lead to the final exposure of a toxic and treacherous plot in which the rules of the game were comprehensively rewritten.

Beginning with the capture of a future "king", Zuma, the new rules gave great power to his proxy, son Duduzane (the "queen"), and saw the three Gupta brothers - Atul, Ajay and Rajesh - harvesting untold wealth in return for their roles as the power brokers behind the throne: the bishop, knight and rook.

With the connivance of numerous willing pawns - not to mention the fact that for years there was only one team in the game - dominance was quickly achieved.

But 10 years of easy gains bred complacency, and a strategic error in April 2013 resulted in team Zupta's first casualty when chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane was demoted for allowing a plane full of Indian wedding guests to land at Waterkloof air force base.

Now the game was out in the open, but it was three years later, in March 2016, that the full extent of the Guptas' strategy was revealed. The Sunday Times's disclosure that Duduzane and businessman Fana Hlongwane arranged a meeting between then-deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and the Gupta brothers was the first suggestion that they were involved in appointing ministers.

At the meeting, which took place at a Sandton hotel in late October 2015, Jonas was offered the job of his boss, then-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. In an affidavit he signed in February 2017, Jonas confirmed the Sunday Times revelation that the Guptas had offered him R600-million if he agreed to become their pawn at the National Treasury.

He declined. When Zuma fired Nene seven weeks later, the unknown Des van Rooyen briefly and notoriously took his place in the game of national looting.

Image: Nolo Moima

Sensational as the Jonas disclosure was, this year's leak of hundreds of thousands of Gupta e-mails showed that it was just one of countless moves being orchestrated from the Guptas' Saxonwold lair as they manipulated their pawns into positions of power with one overriding objective: state capture.

The e-mails showed, for example, that the Guptas and Duduzane, a director of many of their companies, often hosted ministers and senior officials from state-owned enterprises at the luxurious Oberoi hotel in Dubai. It also emerged that the Guptas funded these trips in an alleged bid to score lucrative government contracts for themselves and their business associates.

Combined with former public protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report, they shed light on how the Guptas had rewritten the rules of the game - and they implicated the "queen", Duduzane, and by extension the "king", his father.

Now the flow of the game began to turn. With the queen, bishop, knight and rook reeling under the opposition's counterattack, the Guptas, their businesses and associates had bank accounts frozen and subsequently closed over suspicious transactions totalling billions of rands.

Law enforcement agencies have yet to take the field of play against the Guptas, but parliament instituted hearings into state capture at SOEs such as Eskom and the SABC, in which allegations emerged of how the Gupta family and their associates gained access to the entities without due process.

And more pawns have begun to fall, chief among them former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, exposed for allegedly giving the Guptas and associates access to contracts at Eskom and Transnet.

Bell Pottinger, the British public relations firm unleashed by the Guptas as a pawn on steroids to stoke sentiment in favour of the family, was toppled by advancing foes - and more are lining up to take the fall, including Gupta-linked Trillian Capital.

Victory seems certain for beleaguered Team South Africa, even though the "king" refuses to surrender his throne and retreat to his ill-gotten rural palace.

However, the key questions remain unanswered: when will he find himself in checkmate? And will he be royally punished?

PAYBACK TIME FOR THE CORRUPT

“. . . I truly believe civil cases aimed at reclaiming the money from those who stole are the quickest route to success. One win would set a precedent. We can’t wait while the thieves spend SA’s money on private planes or hide it in Swiss vaults.” — Tweet by businesswoman Magda Wierzycka, who has teamed up with the Helen Suzman Foundation to ask the court to recover money lost to corruption for the benefit of the fiscus.

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