Guptas: We are not great at state capture

With the Gupta family businesses under fire, one of their CEOs, Nazeem Howa, clarifies how his company operates amid claims and allegations of state capture

I lie awake at night worrying about how recent media reports about the Gupta family and their business dealings are affecting the morale of our employees. Our staff are questioned on a daily basis by their families and friends, and I have heard shocking personal accounts of threats and intimidation.

For those who do not know, Oakbay Investments is the holding company for the Gupta family’s businesses, and we employ more than 4 500 people in South Africa.

A battle is raging between rival factions within the ANC, and between the ANC and the opposition. We find ourselves caught in a political storm and entangled in a confusing web of propaganda, allegations and misinformation.

The numerous allegations against the Gupta family and their businesses have come right before this weekend’s meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee – incredibly convenient timing for President Jacob Zuma’s opponents. And it seems some newspapers are happy to print spurious claims without a shred of evidence. We are, of course, given the “right of reply”, but our denials are not going to fill column inches or sell papers.

For example, on Friday, the Mail & Guardian ran a story claiming we had worked to remove Zola Tsotsi as the chairperson of Eskom. The family is accused of removing him to secure a gas-supply contract with Eskom. As the CEO, I can confirm we do not supply gas; we do not even own a gas business.

The stamps in the Guptas’ passports ostensibly refute allegations of their meeting with Mcebisi Jonas. Picture: ANN7 

We fully accept that our silence on our business interests, investments and operations has fuelled suspicion about us. This article is not intended to rebut the political allegations against the Gupta family. As the CEO of Oakbay, it is not my place to do so, but to set the record straight about our business.

Of our more than 4 500 employees, more than 70% are South African and more than 92% are African. We have reinvested more than R10 billion in South Africa and pay all our corporate taxes here.

We are accused of benefiting financially from lucrative government contracts. Our latest audited financials show that only 1% of our revenue comes from government business.

Our biggest sector by far is mining, in which we employ more than 3 400 people. Our biggest mining company is JIC Mining Services. JIC does not have a single government contract; all its clients are blue-chip companies.

We currently supply under 1% of the total coal supplied to Eskom. Following the completion of our acquisition of Optimum from Glencore, we will supply a maximum of 5%.

The acquisition has prevented Optimum from being put into liquidation and prevented the loss of more than 3 000 jobs in South Africa.

The deal is also nearly doubling our workforce in mining, but we remain small players in a sector dominated by the global giants.

Each of our businesses is run by a professional CEO who is responsible for the day-to-day activities and strategy in each unit.

They are accountable for any and all dealings with clients, both in government and the private sector. We have always competed fairly for any business on a transparent basis, negotiating at arm’s length.

In fact, although we do not like to admit it, we have applied for more than 100 mining licences and have not had one awarded by the department of mineral resources.

We are accused of having undue influence and of having perpetrated state capture. But the facts speak for themselves: if this is state capture, then we are not very good at it.

I want to take this opportunity to let all of our employees know that we appreciate their hard work and dedication at this time.

Howa is the CEO of Oakbay Investments

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