EXCLUSIVE: Ex-editor reveals Jacob Zuma's role in creating ANN7

2018-03-14 07:36
Indentured. (Supplied)

Indentured. (Supplied)

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Cape Town – A former ANN7 editor and employee of the Guptas has exposed former president Jacob Zuma's direct hand in the creation of the controversial news channel.

In an explosive new book, he also bares how Gupta lieutenants fraudulently handed South African jobs to Indian nationals.

Indian journalist Rajesh Sundaram's tell-all book Indentured - Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV, published by Jacana, hits the shelves on Wednesday. The term "indenture" refers to a system of slavery where Indian citizens were shipped to former colonies to perform hard labour.

Rajesh Sundaram arrived in South Africa only days after the Guptas' infamous Sun City wedding in 2013. He was appointed as an editor at the then unknown Infinity Media Networks – ANN7's official name.

But on a Sunday morning only a few weeks later, he found himself briefing then president Jacob Zuma on the virtues and value propositions of the next big thing in media: Africa News Network 7.

A name, which according to Sundaram, was chosen by Jacob Zuma himself.

This is one of several staggering revelations made in the book. In it, Sundaram lifts the sordid lid of how the Guptas' news channel came into existence through the hands of a conflicted midwife: Zuma himself.

During a meeting on June 22, 2013, oldest brother Ajay Gupta told Sundaram that Zuma had suggested the name "Africa News Network" for the TV channel.

"The name was already taken, so we decided to call it 'Africa News Network 7'. We must make the president feel important and tell him that we are taking suggestions given by him seriously. He will like it if we seek suggestions from him on how to run the news channel. He would like to see us as his own channel."

Zuma would later tell the brothers to keep the influence subtle, and not have the channel devolve into a publicity channel for him and the ANC.

Zuma did not respond to questions sent to him by the publishers of the book.

The level of familiarity between the Guptas and Zuma is prevalent throughout the book. Sundaram says it was clear that the Guptas knew Zuma intimately. "We call him Baba", Atul Gupta told Sundaram. "We call the Rashtrapati 'Baba'. That is what people who know him call him."

Rashtrapati is the Hindi word for "president".

Zuma picked Manyi

Zuma's hand in the affairs of ANN7 allegedly went as far as suggesting employees for the Guptas' consideration. During a meeting in July 2013, Zuma suggested that then government spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi should be considered as a talk show host on ANN7.

"He will be most suited for your talk shows. If you want, I will speak with him as well," Zuma is quoted as telling the Guptas. "I am sure there are many presenters available. Just do let me know if there is any high profile journalist you may have selected."

But Manyi was less than impressive during his interview. "Jimmy failed miserably when he did his test interrogation with Atul on the Waterkloof issue. Nazeem [Howa, senior Gupta executive], the top editorial team, me and Atul himself knew he was stiff on camera and reluctant to ask tough questions."

But Howa still insisted that Manyi be hired.

"We have to hire him; President Zuma will have it no other way. But we do not have to put him on air until he is perfect. We will have someone train him," Howa is quoted saying.

Zuma's role in setting up ANN7 went much further than random advice, according to Sundaram. At various meetings he gave detailed input into how the channel should be managed, including approving the ANN7 logo.

Zuma cautioned about making it look like a propaganda channel. "I have a few suggestions," he was quoted saying at one of the meetings. "We must not convert this into a publicity channel for the ANC and me. If we do that, we will have no credibility. You must present the views of the opposition and my rivals in the ANC as well.

"The push in our favour should be subtle. You are a seasoned journalist. You know how that can be done… eNCA only presents the government and me negatively. We need a channel that presents the positives that the government is doing," Zuma said looking at Sundaram.

"I will be in Mpumalanga next week, and I will meet people in the local communities and announce measures for their welfare. But I am sure eNCA will not cover that. Their reporter will seek out opposition supporters and do a negative story on how the locals hate me and feel I have done nothing for them," Zuma is quoted saying.

Baba ka Duduzane

It was during a meeting with the Gupta brothers and Jacob Zuma in August 2013 that Sundaram first met Duduzane Zuma. The former president's son was eager to show his father ANN7's sample bulletins, apparently as a precursor to the Guptas discussing additional avenues of revenue from government with Zuma.

"See the visuals we are using for Malema? It is of him getting out of a helicopter. He looks corrupt, does he not? We always use these visuals when we talk about Malema. This is a subtle way of telling the people he is corrupt without saying a word," Ajay Gupta said as Zuma apparently stared spellbound at the bulletins.

Sundaram was told the next day that Howa and Atul Gupta clinched R20 million in business during the meeting, ostensibly on the back of Jacob Zuma's endorsement of the bulletins.

Migrant labour

Sundaram also explained how Gupta lieutenant Ashu Chawla had found a means to expedite Indian nationals obtaining visas to work in South Africa. "It can take months to get a South African work permit. It is a cumbersome process. We must advertise the position in South African newspapers and then wait for six months, after which we provide evidence that we have not found a suitable local candidate. But Ashuji is a genius, and he has found a way around it."

Chawla's solution entailed confirming that prospective employees in India were employed by Essel Media India, a company with close ties to the Guptas and a shareholder in Infinity Media. Chawla would then request that these employees be granted expedited "inter-company transfer" visas, bypassing the arduous processes for making use of immigrant labour.

Sundaram denies ever working for Essel Media, although News24 has seen documentation in which it is confirmed that he worked for Essel Media as part of his visa applications.

This loophole ensured that South Africans were overlooked for positions, even where South Africans had the requisite skills to fill the positions.

Sundaram tells how South African staff were treated compared to their Indian counterparts.

During the launch phase, staff were expected to work until midnight, with only two pool cars allowed to take them home after their shifts ended. Meals were only provided to Indian employees, with the South African staff looking on as their Indian colleagues received meals.

"It was extremely distressing to see the Indian staff sit down for dinner after a long day's work while the South Africans were not invited to join. Many of the South Africans had to go hungry, as there was no place nearby selling food that was open at that time."

Namaste, namago

Sundaram's two-year contract came to an abrupt end in August 2013. He cites an increasing sense of illegal and unfair labour practices, as well as undue political influence in editorial decisions as his reasons for tendering his resignation.

He would later tell City Press how he was hounded by Atul Gupta, intimidated by bodyguards and eventually sent packing back to India with threats of retribution once he got home.

The Guptas were confident about their powerful position, even after Zuma stepped down.

"We have close relations with everyone in the ANC. If Zuma is ever ousted, I can tell you for sure that the next one in line from the ANC would be close to us as well. We are banias [merchants], and we know how to keep our business interests protected," said Atul.

- See more about Indentured - Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV 

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Read more on:    ann7  |  jacob zuma  |  gupta family  |  media  |  politics  |  state capture

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