Ace Magashule, the mayor and tea with Atul Gupta in Saxonwold
One of the most audacious chapters in the chronicle of Ace Magashule and state capture involves a Bloemfontein mayor and a chubby character with black hair and a moustache.
A new book, Gangster State - Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture tells how Thabo Manyoni, when he was mayor of Bloemfontein, received an important visitor one morning in late 2013.
Ace Magashule arrived at his door without the bodyguards and flashing lights that usually accompany the political elite. There was only the Free State premier and his black government-owned BMW SUV.
In an interview in 2018, Manyoni said he was asked to accompany the premier on a trip to Gauteng. He had no clue who they were going to meet, but assumed it would involve a visit to Luthuli House. However, when they arrived in the city Magashule skirted downtown Johannesburg.
Finally he drew up at a palatial property in Saxonwold with a guardhouse and several guards outside. Magashule's black SUV was promptly admitted. He seemed like a regular visitor.
The Free State premier led the mayor into one of several opulent mansions in the compound. A male servant led them to a sitting room and offered tea, cakes and biscuits as they settled into comfortable sofas.
Shortly afterwards the chubby guy with the big moustache made his entrance. Magashule introduced him as Atul Gupta. "This is the person you will be working with," Magashule told the Gupta brother.
Manyoni said his bafflement gave way to disbelief as Magashule and Gupta started discussing a strategy that involved Magashule being appointed minister of communications in the Zuma cabinet and Manyoni filling his shoes as provincial premier.
Gupta told Manyoni he and his brothers regarded the Free State as an important partner in the family business. He bragged about their influence on the ANC and the Zuma cabinet.
"If we call any cabinet minister right now, he or she will be here in an hour," he boasted. He told Manyoni they had files in the basement on cabinet ministers and other politicians.
"The implication was clear: anybody who refused to work with the brothers could be brought down. All they were asking Manyoni to do was to "work with them".
One of the projects the brothers had their eye on was an R11bn housing and business development near the Bloemfontein airport.
The family also wanted more advertising revenue from the Free State government and municipalities for their newspaper, the New Age. When Manyoni said the municipalities did not have large advertising budgets, Gupta replied that it "wasn't really about money, but about power".
As Manyoni's horror became clear, Magashule chipped in now and then to urge him to co-operate with the brothers.
At one stage Magashule left the room to go to the toilet. Gupta took the opportunity to tell Manyoni his body language betrayed a lack of enthusiasm. "It looks like you don't want to work with us," he said.
Gupta then produced a large A4 envelope stuffed with cash and handed it to the mayor for "organisational work". The shocked mayor quickly handed it back.
A month later Magashule tried for a second time to get Manyoni to work with the Guptas, again driving him from Bloemfontein to the Saxonwold compound. After this second visit there were no more attempts to bribe him.
In June 2016, when the ANC was preparing for local government elections, the party gave Manyoni the boot as Mangaung's mayoral candidate. He was downgraded to an ordinary MP in parliament in Cape Town.
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