Zuma lampooned over allowing Gupta family's wedding party to use military base

South African president Jacob Zuma's ties to India's Gupta family, which led to family wedding guests being allowed to land at high-security South African airforce base, have been described as 'an absolute insult to the people of South Africa'.

Jacob Zuma’s close financial ties to wealthy Indian family involve his family members working for the Guptas.
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JOHANNESBURG // An Indian family is playing monopoly when one of the brothers exclaims that he has found a place where you can buy the president and land your aeroplane at a military base. The country is South Africa.

The radio sketch on a Johannesburg-based radio station this week refers to President Jacob Zuma's ties to the Gupta family and the landing of an Airbus carrying wedding guests at the high-security Waterkloof Air Force base near Pretoria, the capital. Mr Zuma, whose son Duduzane is a director at the Guptas' Sahara Computers and Shiva Uranium companies, says he had no role in approving the use of the military facility and lower level officials were to blame. Many South Africans are sceptical.

"Zuma knows how it happened," said Sipho Radebe, a 42- year-old delivery driver from Johannesburg's Soweto township. "He has too close a relationship with this Gupta family."

The so-called Guptagate controversy has united groups ranging from opposition parties to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in their outrage. The two-million member Congress of South African Trade Unions, an ANC ally, called it "an absolute insult to the people of South Africa".

The ANC agreed to hold a parlimentary debate on the landing, the party said in an emailed statement yesterday.

"As an organisation that is concerned with the safety and sovereignty of South Africa, we cannot allow a situation whereby our ports of entry and national key points are penetrated with impunity," it said.

After their private jet touched down at Waterkloof on April 30, the Guptas' wedding guests were driven in black BMWs fitted with flashing police lights to a three-day ceremony at the Palace of the Lost City in the Sun City casino and resort 150 kilometres to the west.

A May 5 cartoon in the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times depicts the three Gupta brothers as welcoming bride and groom, Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia, with a fleet of police cars and saluting officers and saying: "For your wedding gift we bought you a country and a president."

The ministers for public enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, and trade and industry, Rob Davies, attended parts of the celebrations.

The Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta said his country applied for permission to land the plane at the base because ministers and senior political figures were on board. A spokesman for the Guptas, Haranath Ghosh, said the military facility was used with "with full permission of the authorities".

In the wake of the controversy, the government arrested 11 police officers and a reservist, and suspended five officials, including the chief of state protocol, three senior military officers and a police major general.

Mr Zuma must take "drastic steps to cut the relationship with the Gupta family" to limit the political fallout from the wedding scandal, said Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at the Pretoria-based University of South Africa.

Atul Gupta, the managing director of Sahara Computers, said in an interview in 2011 that the president has been a friend of the family for about a decade.

Duduzane Zuma, besides holding directorship posts at Sahara Computers and Shiva Uranium, was part of a group including the Guptas that sought 800 million rand ($90 million) for a mining right disputed by Kumba Iron Ore, a unit of Anglo American Plc.

Mr Zuma's wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, works for Gupta-controlled JIC Mining Services as a communications officer. The Gupta family's newspaper, the New Age, benefits from regular advertisements from state-owned companies.

"South Africans need to understand why and how a single family has come to wield such enormous power and influence over sections of government and its administration," said Neeshan Balton, executive director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, named for an ANC activist who was imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela.

Mr Zuma, 71, has been tainted by scandals before, including an illegitimate child with a friend's daughter, the use of US$27 million (Dh99m) in state funds to upgrade a private home, and rape charges of which he was acquitted in 2006. He has survived them all. In December he strengthened his control over the ANC after easily defeating a leadership challenge from the vice president, Kgalema Motlanthe.