KZN mayor complains of 'Gupta slur'

2013-05-08 10:18
Atul Gupta (Leon Sadiki, City Press)

Atul Gupta (Leon Sadiki, City Press)

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Johannesburg - Newcastle Mayor Afzul Rehman has laid a complaint against a traffic official for calling him a "Gupta", it was reported on Wednesday.

Rehman was renewing his driver's licence at the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) testing station on Friday when the official accosted him in a passageway, The Citizen reported.

The official asked: "Hey Gupta, what are you doing here?" and later "cracked a joke about Indians", said Rehman.

The official then called Rehman a Gupta again, and when Rehman asked him if he knew who he was, he replied: "Yes I know, you are a Gupta."

When Rehman told the official he was offended, he reportedly replied: "You can go back to India and take offence, here in South Africa, this country belongs to us."

Remark made in jest

After reporting the matter to RTI head King Gama, the official offered to make a personal apology to Rehman, but he refused to accept it and instead opened a case of crimen injuria.

He was also speaking to attorneys about making a damages claim in the high court, and would refer the matter to the Equality Court and the SA Human Rights Commission.

The officer in question, Zakhele Mbatha, told The Witness 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.”

Mbatha said he noticed a well-dressed man in the queue. "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’. 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."

Painted with the same brush

Durban tycoon Vivian Reddy told The Witness it was unfortunate all Indians had been painted with the same brush as the Guptas.

A jet chartered by the Guptas landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, in Pretoria, last week, with 200 passengers who were escorted to Sun City, in North West, to attend a lavish, Gupta family wedding.

Reddy, whose many business interests including ownership of the Newcastle Mall, attended the wedding.

He told The Witness: "Indians in South Africa fought side by side with black people during the liberation struggle.

"Rehman has been rated as one of the best mayors in the country. For him to be labelled a Gupta is wrong. It is mainly people who are uneducated on the facts about South Africa who would refer to him as that."

Gupta ‘saddened by racism’

It was "an overreaction" to have such a backlash after an isolated incident, Reddy said.

Asked by the newspaper to comment, Atul Gupta said his family was "really saddened by the racism and xenophobia driving the current debates".

"As a family we settled in South Africa in 1993 to assist in any way we could with transforming this beautiful country."

Gupta said he had become a South African citizen and remained "committed to helping non-racialism and empowering those who were previously disempowered both politically and economically".

Kwanele Ncalane, a spokesperson for Transport MEC Willies Mchunu, told The Witness the allegedly racist remark would be investigated.

"If, after a thorough investigation, it is found to be true, strong action will be taken against the officer."

The mayor’s formal complaint had yet to be received, he told The Witness.

Captain Shoes Magudulela reportedly confirmed that a case of crimen injuria had been opened at the Newcastle police station and that the matter was under investigation.

Read more on:    vivian reddy  |  atul gupta  |  pietermaritzburg  |  racism  |  gupta wedding

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