Gupta family associates plotted with British PR firm Bell Pottinger to launch a smear campaign against the national Treasury by painting former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas as corrupt, leaked e-mails show.
They also show how President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, placed himself in charge of a fight-back by the Gupta family as they battled negative reports about their relationship with several government leaders.
Damning e-mails published at the weekend show the extent of Gupta control over cabinet ministers and parastatal chief executives and board members.
They also shed more light on the family’s relationship with the controversial British PR firm.
Correspondence shows the plot against Jonas was hatched a day after he said he had turned down a bribe offer, which would have included him becoming finance minister after the removal of Nhlanhla Nene.
The parties drafted a media release purporting to come from Hamza Farooqui, managing director of WorldSpace South Africa and partner to Gupta associate Salim Essa in Vardospan, a company that wanted to buy the Habib Bank.
Farooqui’s statement, drafted by Bell Pottinger staffer Nick Lambert on March 17, read: “I can confirm that I paid inducement fee to Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, through the chief of staff to the Ministry of Finance, Pule Setai, and relative of Jonas’s, as well as provided other benefits, such as flight upgrades and luxury hotel rooms.
“I am willing to sign an affidavit in support of [this].
“I am making this statement in a bid to shed light on corruption within the Ministry of Finance.”
The statement was, however, never released as Bell Pottinger’s Victoria Geoghegan later said the media would not run it because of possible legal issues associated with the claim.
Farooqui read but did not respond to a WhatsApp query from Times Media on the statement, while Gupta family lawyer Gert van der Merwe said he would try to reach the family.
Duduzane Zuma, who did not respond to numerous requests for comment, was identified in a Sunday Times report yesterday on his influence over government.
Besides character assassination, the e-mails showed other work done by the company as part of their public work for Oakbay and the Gupta family.
This included looking at and revising press statements made by the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association and drawing up notes for controversial ANC Youth League president Collen Maine ahead of a youth league rally in February last year.
Central to the work done were former Oakbay chief executive Nazeem Howa and the corporate communications team at the company and Bell Pottinger’s Lambert and Geoghegan, who seem to have overseen most of the work.
In February last year, the company also discussed the possibility of lobbying the “ANC or constituent bodies” to react to a press release by the EFF in Gauteng, threatening to drive the Guptas out of the province.
Geoghegan asked whether they could not be lobbied to say something along the lines of: “The EFF comments fly in the face of the revolution against apartheid: threatening the safety and security of workers and committing to physically drive people out of South Africa on the basis of their race is behaviour unbecoming of our people, our democracy and our constitution.”
The company had also told Duduzane Zuma it saw its role as deflecting criticism directed at President Zuma and to turn the nation’s focus to the need for “economic emancipation”.
In return for these services and others the company asked for a £100 000 (R1.65-million) monthly retainer, which excluded costs such as travel for a team that travelled to South Africa every month.
In a responding e-mail, Duduzane thanks them and also asks that they assist him in a campaign he was undertaking involving research he had done.
“It will also require a visual campaign of sorts, T-shirts/banners etc, where I will require assistance whether it be in the designing and creating a hard-hitting message along the lines of the #EconomicEmancipation or whatever it is,” he said.
Though it is not clear whether these campaigns were ever executed, the ethos is similar to that of the #WhiteMonopolyCapital campaign which, the Sunday Times previously reported, was also influenced by Bell Pottinger.
It was reported at the time that an aggressive strategy was adopted to portray the Guptas as victims of a conspiracy involving “white monopoly capital”.
At the time all involved denied any conspiracy, but the e-mails show there was a concerted effort to drum up popular support for the family against what was a media onslaught.
This included roping in the youth league and military veterans.
Attempts to obtain comment from the veterans and ANCYL’s national spokesman, Mlondi Mkhize, were unsuccessful.
Van der Merwe released a statement saying yesterday’s reports relied on “undisclosed documents and assumptions of impropriety resulting in a clear intention to influence political perception which is another example of fake news”.
He said the family denied any wrongdoing or paying any amounts to ministers or the president and reserved its rights.
Meanwhile, the DA has consulted its lawyers with the aim of taking legal action against Zuma‚ the Guptas, implicated ministers‚ public officials‚ state-owned enterprises’ executives and board members‚ and any others who have sought to undermine the state.
“We believe there is a host of charges of the most serious order including grand corruption‚ undermining of state sovereignty‚ and various statutory offences including the leaking of classified information and undue influence in the awarding of government contracts‚” party leader Mmusi Maimane said yesterday.
Maimane said it was clear that a judicial commission of inquiry recommended by former public protector Thuli Madonsela had to be established to swiftly investigate and ensure the unprecedented scale of corruption was stopped.
“Today’s revelations make it clear as to why Jacob Zuma is opposing the public protector’s recommendations in court‚” he said.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said his party felt paralysed by the latest revelations.
The devastating element was that there was nothing authorities could do as the whole system was contaminated, he said.
“Corruption is eating on the body politic of the ANC like a cancerous tumour; that is why they lack decisiveness in taking action against one of theirs.
“It is high time voters prepare themselves for 2019 to choose whether they want to remain under these predators.” – Additional reporting by Sipho Mabena