‘Gupta’ slur to mayor

2013-05-08 00:00

“HEY Gupta, what are you doing here?”

This was the question directed at Newcastle Mayor Afzul Rehman that landed a Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) officer in hot water on Friday.

Rehman took offence at what he believes is a racial slur, while the officer in question, Zakhele Mbatha, maintains he spoke in jest and did not meant to offend.

The mayor opened a case of crimen injuria against Mbatha yesterday and wrote a letter of complaint to Transport MEC Willies Mchunu.

He told The Witness that the incident occurred on Friday, when he visited the RTI to renew his driver’s licence.

While waiting for his application to be processed, Mbatha allegedly accosted him and remarked: “Hey Gupta, what are you doing here?”

“I ignored the comment but he proceeded to an office and cracked a joke about Indians.”

Rehman said he was upset and confronted Mbatha, but had not wanted to make a scene. He asked Mbatha if he knew who he was, to which the officer allegedly replied: “Yes, I know … you are a Gupta.”

“I … told him I found his comments offensive and racist, but his response was: ‘You can go back to India and take offence; here in South Africa the country belongs to us’.”

Mbatha denied he said this.

Rehman said he walked away and reported the matter to the department’s head, King Gama, before leaving.

“A short while later I got a call from … Gama asking if the officer could come to my office and apologise.”

He initially agreed, he said, but then thought of the man on the street who might be subjected to the same treatment by the uniformed officer.

Rehman said he informed Gama of his change of heart and that he intended to lodge an official complaint instead.

Reached for comment yesterday, Mbatha insisted he had made the remark in jest.

“I was arriving at the office on Friday when I saw a long queue. I had just listened to the news and the issue with the Guptas was a hot topic.”

As he approached the queue, he noticed a well-dressed man, Mbatha said.

“I could not recognise him, but I knew the face from somewhere.

“He smiled at me and I jokingly said ‘Hey Gupta, what are you doing here?’. He said ‘What!’ and I replied ‘You look like one of the Guptas. What are you doing here?’.”

Mbatha said Rehman then asked him if he knew who he was.

“Thinking we were still carrying on with the conversation, I replied, ‘You know, the Guptas. They belong in India’,” said Mbatha.

“This was a joke. Everyone was speaking about it. It was not an attack. It was in reference to his appearance. He was dressed smart.”

Mbatha said he had explained this to Gama.

“I am willing to apologise. I understand that he could have been offended. I intended it as a joke in passing. I am willing to apologise if given the opportunity. Everyone at work, even my Indian colleagues, now call me Gupta.

“I was due to meet him on Wednesday, but he called Gama and told him he would take the matter up instead.”

In his letter to the MEC, Rehman speaks of the significant role that Indians played in the apartheid struggle.

“The ANC does not stand for this behaviour and I trust you will uphold its beautiful principle,” the letter states.

Rehman also indicated to Mchunu that he had consulted a senior advocate and would institute a damages claim.

He would also refer the matter to the SA Human Rights Commission and the Equality Court. “If he [Mbatha] doesn’t respect me as an individual he should at least respect the office that I occupy.

“He does not deserve to wear a uniform in the employ of the state,” the letter states.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.