While union vows to block the sale of its banking stake to the family, Ajay scoffs at allegations of state capture but admits to having regular visits with MPs
Denials were the order of the day this week for those associated with the Gupta family.
At an event organised by The New Age newspaper, which is owned by the family, Ajay Gupta denied that his family’s companies lobbied government or that they had “captured the state”.
He also denied having met Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, who is on record as saying that the Guptas last year offered him the position of finance minister.
On the other hand, Gupta said that his family did sit down with Cabinet ministers “many times”. This happened on the first Sunday of the month.
“We used to sit in the presidential guesthouse,” he said.
Only 1% of the Gupta family’s business was conducted directly or indirectly with government, he added.
However, businessman and politician Tokyo Sexwale said the judiciary and Parliament had not been captured, but that the jury was out on whether the executive had been captured.
On the other hand, Eskom chair Ben Ngubane denied that the power utility had curried favour with the Guptas by awarding Optimum Coal a supply contract.
It emerged this month that Eskom awarded a contract worth more than R564 million to Tegeta Exploration and Resources, a coal mining company owned by the Gupta family and President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane.
In April, Tegeta bought Optimum Coal for R2.15 billion.
Moegsien Williams, the editor of The New Age, said that the Guptas’ companies had made “alternative banking arrangements”, without explaining further.
Between December and the end of May, South Africa’s four major banks had closed their accounts with Gupta companies.
Sexwale said that the major banks needed to account for and be transparent about their decision to close the bank accounts.
Given the problems with the banks, Sexwale proposed setting up a state bank and also suggested that the SA Reserve Bank be 100% owned by government.
Nazeem Howa, Oakbay Investments CEO, said that the Guptas’ companies had been targeted because they were new entrants in a number of markets.
Howa said he did not want to call it a conspiracy, but rather a “reaction to a new entrant”.
“It is a protection of self-interest,” he said.
Turning from Gupta-related issues to the New Age event, which centred on the issue of transformation, Sexwale said that despite 22 years of democracy, South Africa still had to contend with huge inequality, poverty and high unemployment.
“Transformation is not where it should be,” he said.
Black Management Forum managing director Busi Mavuso said it was a myth that there was not enough black management talent in South Africa.
“Corporate South Africa is not coming to the party,” she said.
Black Business Council CEO Mohale Ralebitso said the black industrialist programme was aimed at bringing new players into the economy.
But he was quick to add that the programme was a “drop in the ocean” compared to what needed to be addressed in South Africa.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Mineworkers said it would block the sale of its 50% stake in Ubank to the Gupta family, Bloomberg reported.
The Guptas’ Oakbay Investments approached the union to sell its stake in the bank.