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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