Ministers who paid a visit

2011-03-05 18:49

Only two Cabinet ministers have confirmed visiting the controversial Gupta family at their palatial Saxonwold home.

This week City Press contacted the spokespersons of the entire Cabinet, asking whether their ministers had made the pilgrimage to Saxonwold after brothers Atul and Ajay Gupta said many Cabinet members were “friends” who regularly popped in for Diwali and other social events.

Among them was human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale, who last weekend brought “goga atchar” for the family matriarch.

The Gupta brothers further said mines minister Susan Shabangu had visited their home and they had spoken to sports minister Fikile Mbalula over the phone “maybe three or four times”.

Of the ministerial spokespersons who responded to City Press’s inquiries, two confirmed that their bosses had visited the family compound, 14 said they had not and six were unable to confirm whether they had done so. The rest failed to respond by the time of going to press.

Spokespersons for agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and communications minister Roy Padayachee confirmed that they had visited the Guptas, but were unable to say how often.

Sexwale’s spokesperson had not responded to City Press’s queries at the time of going to print. Shabangu referred all questions to cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi, while Mbalula’s office said they were “unaware” of any visits to the Guptas.

Of those who said nay, the responses were, in some cases, rather interesting.

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s spokesperson said his minister had “no relationship whatsoever” with the Guptas, while basic education minister Angie Motshekga said: “I do not know those people. I have only heard about them in the newspapers” – a sentiment echoed by water affairs minister Edna Molewa, who said: “I have never met those people.”

Mzobanzi Jikazana, spokesperson for labour minister Mildred Oliphant, said: “My minister stays in KwaZulu-Natal and I stay in Cape Town. How would I know?”

The spokesperson for social development minister Bathabile Dlamini said she had interacted with the brothers, but “only on ANC business”.

The queries seemed to have irked Manyi, who yesterday issued a statement accusing City Press of violating ministers’ privacy and creating a security threat by attempting to verify the Guptas’ claims.

“We find it highly irresponsible and beyond the scope of the media’s role to monitor the private movement of ministers.
“We do not have to elaborate on the security implications of this behaviour,” Manyi said.

South Africa, he asserted, was “home to a free press” but was “home to respect and the right of privacy as well”.

There was no law, Manyi continued, which prohibited anyone, including ministers, from visiting the house of any person they so wished; a freedom enshrined in the constitution and enjoyed by all citizens.

He said City Press’s attempts to check the accuracy of the Guptas’ claims were “a violation of the right to privacy and freedom of association” and were motivated by “the urge by some media to publish any hearsay as news and scandalise innocent relationships as corrupt”.

City Press’s attempt to give ministers and deputy ministers the right of reply was, in Manyi’s view, “devoid of ethical journalism”.

Manyi, however, expressed a “hope” that journalists would “responsibly make the determination as to what information is private, public or newsworthy”.

Ironically, Manyi’s missive seems not to have been sent to the ministers or their spokespersons contacted by City Press who were, in the main, quite happy to state whether or not they had visited the Gupta home.

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