Where all Rhodes’s shenani­gans lead to the Gupta em­pire

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Bryan Rostron Rostron is a jour­nal­ist and au­thor.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think there could be scary sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Ce­cil Rhodes, the arch-im­pe­ri­al­ist, and the oc­to­pus-like Gupta clan.

But apart from shady busi­ness ethics and overt racism, the most glar­ing trait the Gup­tas share with the colo­nial “colos­sus” is the cyn­i­cal ques­tion that Rhodes rit­u­ally asked of ev­ery­one who stood in his way: what’s his price?

Rhodes be­lieved ev­ery­one could be bought. He prac­tised this credo very suc­cess­fully, boast­ing of “squar­ing” ri­vals and of­fi­cials: to­day, we’d say brib­ing. The Gup­tas have prof­itably im­i­tated the same con­temp­tu­ous for­mula. Af­ter all, they em­i­grated from In­dia and engi­neered a bold takeover bid to pur­chase our pres­i­dent. In their case, how­ever, “squar­ing” can also be as cheap as fly­ing a min­is­ter to Dubai and pay­ing for a few days in a lux­ury ho­tel. Un­like Rhodes, who had to get elected prime min­is­ter of the Cape to achieve com­plete con­trol, the Gup­tas sim­ply had to ac­quire Ja­cob Zuma to take over run­ning the coun­try.

All this has come into sharp fo­cus now that the race to suc­ceed Zuma has heated up, with smears sur­fac­ing re­cently aimed at the cur­rent deputy pres­i­dent, Cyril Ramaphosa, gen­er­ally seen as the anti-Zuma can­di­date. These smears have the fin­ger­prints of state in­tel­li­gence agen­cies all over them. In­deed, Ramaphosa and oth­ers have re­marked that this bears an­other sin­is­ter like­ness to our past, though more re­cent than Ce­cil Rhodes: the era of faked leaks and dis­in­for­ma­tion pumped out by the apartheid se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment.

So, at the very mo­ment that we need a tough­minded and in­de­pen­dent me­dia to sift fact from fic­tion what has hap­pened? The ubiq­ui­tous Gup­tas have sold their in­ter­est in their ma­lig­nant me­dia out­lets (or ap­pear to have done, as the deal is very murky) to a no­to­ri­ously con­tro­versy-prone char­ac­ter. The Gup­tas’ com­i­cally de­ceit­ful TV chan­nel, ANN7, and their shabby news­pa­per, The New Age, would eas­ily vie in any com­pe­ti­tion for the grub­bi­est in their cat­e­gories, although they might have stiff com­pe­ti­tion from North Korea. They seem to ex­ist for two rea­sons only: to at­tack Zuma’s op­po­nents, and to siphon off large chunks of gov­ern­ment ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue in re­turn.

The Gup­tas are di­vest­ing them­selves of their lo­cal as­sets (or ap­pear­ing to) as their cor­rup­tion has led to nearly ev­ery bank clos­ing their ac­counts. On the bright side this is due to out­stand­ing jour­nal­ism which — for lack of any po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion — has ex­posed the stag­ger­ing ex­tent of Gupta chi­canery. But on the dark side, you only have to take a glance at the man to whom they have “sold” their news­pa­per and TV sta­tion.

Mzwanele Manyi is a huck­ster who loves the lime­light and of­ten says any­thing that comes into his head, which can ei­ther be fatu­ous or of­fen­sive.

Manyi was once the gov­ern­ment spokesman un­til his taste for be­ing the story rather than spin­ning it got the bet­ter of him.

In that sense, he is prob­a­bly the per­fect fit to take over the Gupta pro­pa­ganda ma­chines.

He has a coun­ter­part in the pro­pri­etor of the largest sta­ble of news­pa­pers in the coun­try, the In­de­pen­dent Group. Iqbal Survé loves to ap­pear in his own news­pa­pers and is given to grandiose boasts about his CV that dis­solve on ex­am­i­na­tion — in­clud­ing the claim that he was Nel­son Man­dela’s doc­tor on Robben Is­land when he was in fact a mere ju­nior med­i­cal stu­dent.

ON THE DARK SIDE, YOU ONLY HAVE TO TAKE A GLANCE AT THE MAN TO WHOM [THE GUP­TAS] HAVE SOLD THEIR NEWS­PA­PER AND TV STA­TION

For­eign pub­li­ca­tions lap up this tosh. It was Survé’s Sun­day news­pa­per (edited by a some­what com­pro­mised jour­nal­ist) that pub­lished that “scoop” about Ramaphosa, seem­ingly chiefly based on shod­dily doc­tored e-mails, but largely unchecked: a very de­based form of jour­nal­ism. But when crit­i­cised, Survé lashes out — his news­pa­pers once even ran a full-page “ex­posé” of his many crit­ics, de­void of truth or fact; the shab­bi­est page of jour­nal­ism I’ve seen in a long ca­reer.

It is a bizarre fact that fibs that would see a cub reporter sacked never thwart rich peo­ple, with a rocky re­la­tion­ship with the truth, from me­dia own­er­ship. This is an in­ter­na­tional aber­ra­tion, but a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive one right now for us.

Sad to say, in many ways Ce­cil Rhodes would feel right at home to­day in Zuma’s SA. It’s even pos­si­ble that not all the Gupta toad­ies have taken kick­backs.

There is al­ways the caus­tic cau­tion­ary re­minder of that fa­mous lim­er­ick: “Thank God you can­not bribe or Trust/ The Hon­est Bri­tish Jour­nal­ist/ But judg­ing what the man will do/ Un­bribed, there’s no oc­ca­sion to.”

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