Political drama, mining deals and even wedding party controversies – an immigrant family that is one of South Africa’s wealthiest has long been accused of undue influence behind the scenes.
Now the Gupta family is at the centre of attention after they were alleged to have offered key government jobs to those who might help their business interests.
Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas revealed this week that the Guptas had offered him the post of finance minister, providing the first public testimony of their alleged involvement in cabinet appointments.
The corruption scandal has renewed scrutiny on President Jacob Zuma’s ties with Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, three brothers from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Led by Atul, they arrived in South Africa in 1993 as apartheid rule crumbled and a year before Nelson Mandela won the country’s first democratic elections.
As the country opened up to foreign investment, the Guptas – previously small-scale businessmen in India – built a sprawling empire with interests in computers, mining, media, technology and engineering.
They also developed close links with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, and particularly with Zuma, well before he became president in 2009.
Zuma’s son Duduzane is a director of the Gupta’s Sahara Computers, which is named after their hometown of Saharanpur.
Zuma’s third wife Bongi Ngema and one of his daughters have also been Gupta employees.
“The Guptas are smart and shrewd business people and this can’t be a normal relationship,” political analyst Prince Mashele told AFP.
“There appears to be a Gupta hand in every business sector.”
Now in their 40s, the Guptas hold court at their residential and business headquarters in a huge high-security compound in Saxonwold in Johannesburg.
It has a helicopter pad and they reportedly travel with their own chefs and bodyguards.
Public anger towards the family soared in 2013, when a jet carrying 217 foreign guests to a Gupta wedding landed at Waterkloof Air Force base, outside Pretoria.
The airport is a military facility normally used to receive heads of state.
The wedding party did not go through immigration checks, and were given a police escort to the marriage at a casino resort.
The fact that some ministers attended the week-long ceremonies fuelled further antagonism towards the Guptas.
Exploring the tangled web of ties, Bloomberg News recently reported that a firm partly-owned by Duduzane Zuma obtained shares last year in Tegeta Exploration, a company founded by the Guptas.
Soon after, Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane joined a Tegeta delegation that visited Switzerland to negotiate the purchase of Glencore’s Optimum coal complex.
As with several other ministers, Zwane’s appointment was widely seen to have been due to the Guptas.
“There is a feeling that the Guptas are almost running the state,” Adriaan Basson, author of the book “Zuma Exposed”, told AFP.
“I can’t see President Zuma turning his back on the Gupta family.”
High-profile holdings in their portfolio include the New Age, a pro-government newspaper launched in 2010, and the 24-hour news channel ANN7, broadcasting since 2013.
After years of silence, the Guptas have started to fight back against their critics and this week they strongly denied the latest raft of allegations.
“We employ more than 4 500 people and reinvest all profits in our South African businesses,” they said in a statement to AFP last month.
“We have been in South Africa since 1993 and are a proudly South African family.”[Source: AFP]