Ashish Sewgoolam
Ashish Sewgoolam

The flood caused by opening the Guptagate

It’s been three days since #Guptagate was the top trending topic in South Africa on Twitter and it does not seem like that’s going to change until the weekend.

From recent observation, I’ve noted that South Africans are all too eager to jump on the bandwagon and add their two cents to any news story that’s surrounded by a media frenzy, and Twitter seems to be the platform of choice. The landing of an A330 aircraft with around 200 Indian Gupta wedding guests at the Waterkloof Air Force Base has caused the latest furore and largest outcry since Oscar Pistorius’s shenanigans.

I understand the sensitivity of the issue given the dispute around who granted permission to land a private chartered plane at a military air base coupled with the Gupta family links with the president; but on the other hand I don’t understand the reason for the all the fuss that this wedding is causing among the South African public.

After giving this a lot more thought than I intended to, I’ve come up with only one reason why the public could be so upset that they would resort to venting about it for three consecutive days (and counting): the Gupta’s landed a plane full of their wedding guests at the military base rather than a commercial airport and saved money by evading airport taxes and all other costs associated with landing, parking and refuelling a plane at a commercial airport, and it could be bankrolled by state funds.

Now, the above is based on mere speculation, as I do not believe that a family as wealthy as the Gupta’s, who have pulled out all the stops for this wedding, would pass a fuel bill on to taxpayers. Nevertheless, if this is indeed the case, as a tax-paying South African it is a matter of concern to me.

Other than that, I cannot conceive any other legitimate reason for the public outcry. Looking at the situation rationally, somebody with the necessary authority had to have approved the landing of the plane at Waterkloof Air Base. If that wasn’t done, I am sure that any aircraft flying into airspace without announcement and permission wouldn’t be in the sky for very long at all. I also find it very difficult to believe that there were no immigration or customs officials present when the plane landed so that guests could clear immigration.

What makes it even more difficult to believe that there were no immigration officials present is that there was a blue-light brigade ready and waiting to escort the fleet of Mercs to Sun City – so clearly state departments were aware of this.
It’s apparent that somebody approved this and individuals who were present must have been aware of what was transpiring. If the media were aware of the goings on and present to cover it, can one really believe that those who would have to give approval were in the dark? Why is everyone who is in a position of authority denying having any knowledge of this?

So what’s all the fuss about? On Workers Day, we are concerned about a plane landing at an airbase in Pretoria rather than coming to terms with living in a country where protesting labourers get massacred by the police who use live ammunition and blame it on a breakdown in communication. We live in a country where unions dictate the cost of labour and the threat, sometimes even delivery, of violence is enough for employers to give in to the often ridiculous union demands, despite how crippling it can be to our economy at a time when the rand is at its lowest in years. The Gupta’s chose to have their family wedding in South Africa. In doing so, they brought hundreds – if not thousands – of foreign guests to the country to spend their money and inject it into our economy. They hired the entire Sun City resort and spent millions on décor alone for the wedding. Every bit of the hordes of money that they and their guests have spent has gone directly into our economy – and that is not even counting the foreign direct investment that the family has ploughed into South Africa.

If people want to get upset about something, it should be the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill, more commonly known as the secrecy Bill. If you can get upset over a military base being used to land a plane full of wedding guests, surely you can get worked up over a Bill that aims to regulate the classification, protection and dissemination of state information, weighing state interests up against transparency and freedom of expression.

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    • Stephen Browne

      You fail to make the connection between poverty, crime, unemployment, unrest etc. and political corruption. If the same government responsible for fixing our broken nation is messing around in this highly questionable manner, what is the public supposed to think?

      Don’t feed me some BS about investment, that is not what this is about. A blue light brigade for the guests leaving the airport? I’m sincerely hoping this piece is satire.

      The suspension of a obscure protocol official and the blanket denial by everyone, including the SANDF (our military doesn’t know how a 200-passenger jet was given clearance to land on their base? Please), is indicative of worried, ass-covering politicians.

      Sure, South Africans are horrible at being politically conscious, but don’t write this one off just yet.

    • Robin Grant

      I can not think of a legitimate reason why they didn’t land at OR Thambo, with the rest of the public international air traffic.

      PS. The state information bill would have simply allowed the government to classify the whole thing, and you wouldn’t be writing about it.

    • Tofolux

      @Ashish, I am quite surprised that you are surprised at how a sector of our nation consistently responds to issues in this country. In fact, to be more precise why dont you look at the nature of these responses maybe that would shed some light on your surprise. Furthermore, what is extremely LACKING in all the ”twitter uproar” if you want to give ”twitter” some credibility is the CONSISTENT leaks iro NATIONAL KEY POINTS. In any other country, these type of leaks that would have SHUTDOWN all govt safety departments. Imagine in America if thse leaks were leaked to media in particular to Obama’s safety upgrades in his home, about airports where he lands or about his financial position. I would envision every safety and security dept be it CIA, FBI or woteva to have been onto those leaks and media immediately. Somewhre in a critical dept eg Defence sumone is leaking critical information and there must be an investigation into these leaks. Furthermore it seems that the leader of the opposition party enjoys better and more protection than our own Head of State and I would like to know from persons such as yourself why you do not question this. I wonder how these twitterers will react if our country should be plunged into a national crisis and their further reaction if they should find themselves in the firing line of this crisis. Also, phlesse, stop regurgitating the non-sense of those who peddle false information. Please read the bill in conjunction with our…

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The plane could have been full of contraband – drugs, or money laundering cash. or anything at all. None of the 200 guests or their luggage were cleared or checked, nor was the aircrew.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Zuma seems unable to function without an Indian sponsor – the Guptas seem to have replaced the Shaiks(and the Chettys). Which is ironic since the Indian indentured labour was only imported into SA because Zulu men refused to work on farms as any cultivation of crops was “women’s work”. This prohibition existed in all the Bantu tribes, but strongest among the Zulu. Other tribes, in SA, Zimbabwe and Kenya, did adapt to farm work, although never housework, with the exception of Muslim Blacks (like the Majo Domo in “Out of Africa” by Karen Blixen).

      If boys are still being taught that cultivation of crops is “women’s work” in the initiation schools how is Africa going to produce any Black farmers?

    • Peter Joffe

      Ashish, you have it wrong. We are not upset by the wedding, we are upset at the abuse of power and who benefited from it. The news now that some low down lackey in government, who is being blamed for it when he had no power to even organized a party in a brewery. When all the evidence is examined and all of it found to be wanting, then the obvious must be the truth. The only conceivable person who could have done this/ would have done this is Zuma.
      If it is true that “The Minister of Protocol” can mobilize the country for war, we are in more serious trouble that I ever thought we could sink to.
      The shoe fits and Zuma is the only one who can wear it. Apart from flying 3 aircraft to New York this is very much the signature of Zuma, as there are many other indications, Nkandla for instance.
      “Gee those idiots in the department spent R206,000,000 upgrading my humble residence in KZN – they could have, at least told me about it” JZ.

    • Mr. Direct

      Yes – we are outraged at the use of the Waterkloof Airforce base (National Key Point) by unscreened foriegn nationals because we are worried about the fuel they may use, and the airport fees they may save.

      Sure, the tourism will make up for the loss, what were we all thinking….

      Now, where is my copy of the secrecy bill, oh yes, under my sign with the word SARCASM printed on it….

    • Amanda de Beer

      Ashish, I agree with you but also do not agree with you. I agree with most of what you said but it seems you are actually saying that we do not need to make a fuss of this as there is more important things to fuss about. Yes, off course there are much more other important things happening to make a fuss about, the two examples you mentioned are things that the media is already making a fuss about. (it is not something new) However that a mere family (ok I know they are rich)could have been given permission to bring in the country their wedding guest at a airport meant to be used by the military and only VIP’s, like for example a president of another country or perhaps the Queen of England, is not only laugable but ridiculous.If they got permission for this by who ever it is fine but the people who gave them permission, that is the problem. Are we becoming a Banana republic or what?

    • ian shaw

      The suspicion is that Zuma himself approved (or may have encouraged) this landing by the Guptas while they are trying to pin it on some low-ranking official. The truth is probably classified under the new secrecy law, since it has a connection with state security (as any attempt of an illegal entry to the country via a “key point”)..

    • http://none Richard Becker

      Besides the unacceptable use of a military installation for a private party by a foreigner there was the supply, at great cost to the taxpayer, of police guards, the disgusting, bullying blue light brigade and dozens of luxury vehicles to transport the over rich ‘guests’ to the outrageous ‘Sin City’.

      Totally gauche and tasteless from beginning to end.

    • Momma Cyndi

      ??? so if you are prepared to spend money in SA then our national security is yours to plunder at will ??? Well isn’t that going to make Christmas vacation a busy time for military bases across the country! Every tourist gets a flight to a military base and full blue light honours

      Thank the gods that we are not at war. If this is the level of security at the top military airforce base then we wouldn’t last a long weekend!

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Tofolux, while Obama is the president of the US, he lives in the WH and this is owned by the US government. The spending is approved by Congress, and Obama doesn’t own this address. There is no money spent on Obama’s private home like what one sees in SA. As a matter of facts, the Obama’s have to pay for their food in the WH and only eat free when there is a state dinner. Zuma is the one that gave the orders to let this family use the air base, and he has taken off to CAR like he doesn’t know what happened.

    • Bobby

      Ja Meneer Becker and all you esteemed commentators; You’re 100% correct, the grapes ARE INDEED SOUR, ‘Totally gauche and tastleless from beginning to end’

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Beddy, Zuma’s son and one of his wives are working for this family. Zuma gave the orders to let this family use the air base, and he is doing what Al Capone did in Chicago let somebody else take the rap while, he walks around smelling like a rose.

      Speaking of black men farming in Africa, I was just reading that in Liberia, the American Liberians men do the farming, but the native Liberians men don’t farm. So, being black doesn’t necessary make one African like Keith Richburg found out on his stay in Africa.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Beddy,Joffe, the late president Abacha would have airlines come and pick money at the air base to take to Europe. Now, you see the need for a free press in a country and why the ANC wants to muzzle the press.

    • The Naked Worker

      South Africans are tired of being blatantly ripped off and screwed by wealthy people with political connections and our leaders themselves.

      This Gupta affair is the ultimate insult. It is a huge middle finger by the elite to average hardworking honest South Africans showing them they are lower than manure.

    • JitsZA

      Thought leader? Think again. At best, this operation was executed without the powers that be knowing about it. At worst, the powers that be are part of this plan. Either way it is an embarrassment that all South Africans have to now carry.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Beddy, why is COSATU so shocked because the guest only wants whites to serve them? These people seem to be ignorant of the caste system in India, and the black Africans are looked on as the untouchable by these guests. Zuma did the right thing not to go to this wedding because he would be viewed as an untouchable by these guests. The MG should do a story on the caste system in India and how these people view the black Africans.

    • david

      For a moment there I thought Ashish might be a spin doctor for the Guptas, for in the end his piece is little more than positive PR for this family. This obscene wedding extravaganza that turned South Africa into a playground for the Guptas, where luxury resorts, military airfields, highways, state security services were simply commandeered Mugabe-style by them so they could have a party, should be applauded, he tells us, because of the financial benefits to the country such spending by them affords. To think otherwise would be churlish of us, he chides. Tell that to the hardcore gamblers who couldn’t place a bet on the tables because they too were commandeered by Bollywood for the night, and the motorists who had to career off the highways to avoid the convoys of blue lights tailgating them, or the cocaine smugglers who have to use public airports bristling with security and dogs and see how churlish they can become Ashish. This is Persian Bazaar mentality at its best and South Africans, as you can see from the comments Ashish, know the difference between slimy, parasitical egoism and true altruism. Your attempt to turn the gratuitous egoism of the Guptas into an act of altruism won’t cut it. Bling is big here, but not this big.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      It is very unlikely that any South African Blacks know anything at all about the Indian caste system, but since you mentioned it, the Indian Indentured labourers who came out to SA 100 years ago were almost all lower caste, and so much better off in SA where there was no caste system, that most did not want to go back but started bringing out their families, as they could afford it, instead.

    • david

      Imperialism has been privatized. Any Gupta, Gates, or Buffett can now take over a country if the baksheesh is right. The Guptas have paved the way and their business model will be studied by MBA students in the future. Their strategy is simple. Identify a leader of a country who is partial to curry. Make a breyani, add it to his chakalaka, feed the extended family, and the keys to the kingdom are yours for the taking. And, just to show you are a patriot, print a daily newspaper that lionizes the state gofers who cater to your every wish. This will be a tax write-off though, for no-one will pay for it, not even the gofers. A small price to pay when you can jet-ski behind a navy frigate, and do free falls from a grippen, and dance the night away in the lost city of a country once sovereign.

    • Derek


    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      @Sterling Ferguson – you are aware that Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, is a board member of several businesses owned by the Guptas and was an invited guest to the wedding?

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Ashish, Zuma’s son on the board is nothing but window dressing for the Guptas to get inside connection to the government. Your article is actually saying the plane landing at the air base was no big deal because there are bigger fish to catch.

    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      It has everything to do with your comment:
      “These people seem to be ignorant of the caste system in India, and the black Africans are looked on as the untouchable by these guests. Zuma did the right thing not to go to this wedding because he would be viewed as an untouchable by these guests. The MG should do a story on the caste system in India and how these people view the black Africans.”

      If that was your interpretation of my post, I may be wasting my time commenting here but let me try and simplify this:
      If you ask somebody for something (regardless of how brazen it is) and they give it to you, but they shouldn’t have, it’s pretty clear who’s to blame…isn’t it?

    • Littlebobpete

      @lyndall beddy……and the guptas who came here 20 years ago are also of the lower caste. There is nothing classy about them. Wealth doesn’t make you classy by any means

    • zeelzo

      You,Ashish, have GOT to be kidding!