Georgina Guedes

The day the Guptas summoned me

2016-03-18 14:19

Georgina Guedes

Since everyone in government is announcing that they were invited to the Gupta residence, I thought it might be time to come clean. My name is Georgina Guedes and I was once summoned by the Guptas. Please add me to your list of heroes.

It was a long time ago now - probably just more than 10 years - before Zuma seized the empire and before the Guptas enjoyed their meteoric rise to power.

They had sponsored a supplement in Brainstorm magazine, which I was editing at the time. Part of the sponsorship deal was editorial coverage in the supplement, and we had informed them as they signed the contract that this coverage would be unbiased.

It was essential to be very clear about this because Sahara, the Gupta-owned ICT distribution company, had a reputation for bringing in grey imports (imports that are outside of the proper sales channels and therefore not supported). Of course, we had told them, they would have the right of reply to anything that we wrote.

You can probably guess where this is going...

A temper is lost

Our journalists took the gloves off, and Atul Gupta was - to put it mildly - not pleased. I and the Brainstorm sales manager were summoned. We hopped it to his home (having no sense of direction and this being over 10 years ago, I can’t swear which home it was or provide colourful descriptions of the exterior in the style of Vytjie Mentor), and were ushered into a gloomy boardroom.

Atul burst in, fair combusting with rage. He yelled us at us. Quite a bit. Quite a lot actually. It would have been really unpleasant, save for two things. The first is that he has quite a reedy voice, so there wasn’t much volume coming our way (think David Beckham with an Indian accent).

The second was that the thing he was most concerned about was the terrifying spectre of “Mummy”. “How can I show this to Mummy?” he shrieked as us. (I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Mummy in recent years. If she’s still with us, I wonder what she makes of all the media coverage her family has been receiving.)

After he had said his bit, we worked out some sort of compromise. The deal, which I believe was fair enough, was that we would tackle the matter of their reputation and the grey imports in one story, and not in every piece of editorial written by our bloodhound journalists.

The big reveal

This agreed, he was congeniality itself, leaning across the table to shake hands with us for the first time. As we rose (we had been ambushed by his tirade and had not stood up), he noticed that the sales manager was about eight months pregnant.

He was aghast. Almost tearful, he reprimanded himself for having put a pregnant woman through all that. His made a steeple with his hands and brought them together over his lips. He used a lovely term like “with child” to describe her as he chastised himself.

We reassured him that she and her baby weren’t in any danger, and yet he continued to be quite deflated by the revelation of her pregnancy. He ushered us out kindly but hurriedly, as if he wanted the whole screaming-at-a-pregnant-woman episode to be forgotten as quickly as possible.

And that was the end of that. I wasn’t offered a job or a kickback. He didn’t even give us lunch. But a once-off meeting with a tricky client only became much more interesting years later when his family’s name started to crop up in other circles.

The power behind the power behind the throne

I often think back to that dressing down we had in the boardroom of Gupta home, and wonder whether Members of Parliament – or even our president – are likewise on the receiving end of such scoldings. And I wonder whether “Mummy” is still invoked in those tense moments. Perhaps she is the real force running South Africa right now.

 - Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  gupta family  |  atul gupta


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