#GuptaLeaks: Let's hear it for the good guys

Johannesburg - “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” famously opined the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke. When it came to the Guptas, an awful lot of nothing was done by an awful lot of people. But there were exceptions: ordinary South African men and women who did not simply capitulate to the Guptas’ wishes even when those around them, or above them, were happy to do just that.

The #GuptaLeaks emails have cast countless individuals, and institutions, in a dubious light. The full story, however, requires acknowledgement of those who tried – often in vain – to do the right thing.

- See the #GuptaLeaks site

There’s an obvious caveat that bears mentioning: the individuals we’re about to profile were simply staying on the right side of the law, and doing their (often very well-paid) jobs. In an ordinary country, merely doing your job would be insufficient reason for you to be lauded as a person of exceptional moral fibre. But South Africa is no ordinary country, and these are not ordinary times.

Karen Ferreira, Transnet

Transnet’s business support manager, Karen Ferreira, was viewed as so obstructive to the Gupta’s plans to milk the parastatal that she was the subject of a complaint letter from one of the Guptas’ lieutenants. Ferreira’s offence? She questioned why a Gupta front company, Zestilor, had been given a contract to supply IT data services to Transnet without proper tender processes having been followed.

In a letter written to Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama in June 2015, Sahara’s Stephan Nel complained that a delay in payment to Zestilor as a result of Ferreira’s scepticism about the contract was the result of unjust targeting. “Zestilor is of the opinion that it is in fact our status as a small, women-led BEE company that has led to our unfair treatment,” Nel wrote.

As it emerged, Ferreira was right to be suspicious. Zestilor turned out to be owned by the wife of Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa, with funds channeled back to the Guptas’ computer company, Sahara.

Thabani Mashego, Eskom

From 2014, the Guptas began pushing for an Eskom coal contract for their mining company, Tegeta. This was despite the fact that Tegeta’s Brakfontein coal was both poor quality and overpriced. amaBhungane & Scorpio have detailed how Tegeta eventually won the right to supply coal to Majuba power station and steadily sought to increase the amount.

In September 2015, Tegeta chief executive Ravindra Nath emailed Eskom to push for a further three-year contract to supply coal as a “value-adding trader”. A back-and-forth ensued in which Eskom official Thabani Mashego essentially told the Guptas that they would have to follow the same tender application process as everyone else – words that the family was clearly unused to hearing.

After a particularly imperious email from Nath in which he instructed Mashego to “execute the contract”, Mashego replied:

“Eskom will be going out on open enquiry to fulfill their coal shortfall requirements going forward. Tegeta is therefore advised to respond to such enquiries, which will be advertised in the print media and the Eskom Tender Bulletin shortly.”

Mashego held the line – but, as amaBhungane notes, others did not. It ended up being of little relevance to Tegeta, which proceeded to become a major coal supplier to Eskom anyway.

Rone Alex, KPMG

Audit firm KPMG has come under fire as a result of the #Guptaleaks emails for its cosy relationship with the Guptas and apparent willingness to look the other way in the face of artificially manipulated finances.

Still, at least one KPMG employee had both eyes on the prize. Rone Alex was the junior auditor at the firm who attempted to voice concerns about why the Gupta company Linkway Trading was paying the R30-million bill for the Guptas’ lavish 2013 Sun City wedding as a “business expense”.

The #GuptaLeaks trove shows that on 18 September 2014, Alex emailed her superior – audit partner Jacques Wessels – to record: “We are of the opinion that these [wedding-related] costs are most probably not in the production of Linkway’s income”. Alex also asked for “more clarity on the purpose of this company [Linkway]”.

But such concerns were evidently swept aside. KPMG has since released a statement asserting that the audit of Linkway Trading was conducted “in accordance with International Standards on Auditing”, and that the firm stands by the audit opinion offered. It remains to be seen whether the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors, which has announced that it is investigating the Linkway audit, will agree.

Heidi Gavagnin, Sun City spa

The #GuptaLeaks emails provide evidence of racist attitudes held by the Gupta family, including their demand for white staff in certain roles at the 2013 Sun City wedding. The emails also show that some contractors were willing to comply with the Guptas’ racial preferences – but not Heidi Gavagnin, director of the Gatsby Spa at Sun City.

Following a meeting with Sahara CEO Ashu Chawla, at which Chawla introduced the Guptas’ desire for all-white employees to give their guests spa treatments, Gavagnin emailed to tell Chawla where to get off.

Drily describing the meeting as “certainly interesting”, Gavagnin wrote:

“After discussing the matter with my fellow directors we have come to the conclusion that it would be in neither of our best interests to bring in part time white staff for your very important guests”.

She added: “We would also like to mention that our therapists are of world class standard”.

• Scorpio is the Daily Maverick’s new investigative unit. If you'd like to support its work, click here.

• The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism is an independent non-profit. Be an amaB supporter to help it do more. Sign up for its newsletter to get more.

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