Cape Town – Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane on Wednesday vehemently denied that he at any stage benefited from his relationship with the Gupta family, or tried to further their business interests in his capacity as a public official.
Zwane faced a grilling from Parliament’s portfolio committee on mineral resources, which was instructed by House chairperson Cedric Frolick to call Zwane to respond to state capture allegations.
The minister was asked to clarify a number of claims in the public domain, such as his involvement in the dairy farm project in Vrede in the Free State, his close connection to the Gupta family and President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane, whether he travelled and stayed in hotels at the expense of the Guptas or their business associates, his alleged role in securing the Guptas’ purchase of the Optimum colliery from Glencore, and his reported involvement in the landing of a Gupta-chartered aircraft at the Waterkloof airforce base in Pretoria.
Zwane said it surprises him that MPs view him as this “powerful minister who can speak to anybody”.
'I didn't even know about this place called Waterkloof'
“It puzzles me how easily the people of South Africa act on rumours,” he said.
“How can anybody believe that a mere MEC from the Free State province can influence the landing of a plane from another country,” Zwane asked, referring to rumours that he was instrumental in the landing of a private aircraft at Waterkloof Air Force base.
The Guptas gained national attention in 2013, when they flew 217 people in a chartered plane to the Waterkloof Air Force base in Pretoria for their niece’s wedding. As a national key point, Waterkloof is off limits to commercial airlines.
Zwane on Wednesday said he simply did not have the powers to allow the plane to land at Waterkloof. “I did not even know about this place called Waterkloof. I hope everybody understands this.”
Saving jobs, one Dubai trip at a time
Zwane repeated earlier explanations that he travelled to Switzerland with the Gupta family to facilitate the buying of Optimum mine to save 3 000 jobs.
According to him, the Gupta family’s business was the only company that showed interest in buying Optimum from Glencore.
Asked about his alleged trips to Dubai and India, Zwane said he has been to Dubai “many times”.
“I just came back from Dubai where we had a mining conference and I’m happy to say it went very well. I’ll continue visiting Dubai going forward,” Zwane said.
He told MPs if they want the reasons for his trips they can “interact with his court papers”, in which these are set out.
Why this obsession with one family?
Zwane asked MPs why they are so interested in “one particular family” named Gupta. “I’m asking myself why is this portfolio committee just interested in my meetings with one family. I’ve said it before – I meet many people. In Dubai I also met business people from South Africa in the diamond industry. And I say to them, 'Let’s talk'."
Zwane also lambasted the media for unfair reporting on the president’s son Duduzane Zuma.
“Duduzane is a South African. He is allowed to do business in South Africa. Why the fuss when a young person like Duduzane go(es) to the market – why not? Is he not supposed to, because of his father?”
‘I’d love to live in Saxonwold’
The mining minister admitted to visiting Saxonwold, where the Guptas have their family residence.
“I’d like to visit Stellenbosch to meet an honourable person there who can do a lot for South Africa,” he said, in all likelihood in reference to Johann Rupert, chairperson of Richemont.
“I know where Saxonwold is. And one day I’d love to have a house there. It’s in South Africa. We must never allow a situation where richness only allows certain people to live in a particular area. I also want to go to Stellenbosch. There’s somebody living there which we don’t talk about. I’d also like to visit this honourable person.
“I’ll go to Stellenbosch like I went to Saxonwold. Do you need any information about my going there? In short, I’ve been to Saxonwold, but never to Stellenbosch,” Zwane said.
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