South African media have been filled with reports, analyses and commentary on the implications of the Gupta aircraft’s landing at the Waterkloof military airbase in Pretoria, leading some South Africans to question whether the entire saga has been blown out of proportion. KHADIJA PATEL and THAPELO LEKGOWA hit the streets of Johannesburg to find out what people made of the situation.
It’s over a week since a politically connected family flew a privately chartered jet into a military airbase. There have since been no sightings of Ashton Kutcher near the air base or Sun City shouting, “Punked!” Alas, it was not an elaborate practical joke played on the South African people. And we await government’s findings of its probe into how a flight manifest, which consisted largely of civilian passengers, was allowed the special rights and privileges afforded only to visiting diplomats and states people.
While condemnation of the various rights and privileges wrongfully afforded to the Gupta family’s wedding guests has rung out across the political divide, there remain a number of South Africans who believe that the ensuing media spectacle is disproportionate to what actually happened last week.
In order to test which of these feelings was most prominent on Johannesburg’s streets, we headed to Park Station. We certainly did not expect to find the place teeming with people braying for Jacob Zuma’s blood for the indiscretions of his friends. We did not expect to find exactly the same level of outrage in the streets around Park Station as we did on social media platforms, but we also didn’t expect to find such a great level of disinterest in the Gupta saga, and in South African current affairs more generally.
The first woman we approached was selling airtime outside the station. She listened to us patiently while we explained what we wanted to chat to her about. Speaking softly, almost haltingly, she said she had followed the Gupta saga on the news, assuring us that she was clued up about what was happening around her. But when we asked her what she thought about the debacle, asking her to reveal her own opinions instead of the facts, she grew reticent. “I am from Zimbabwe,” she said. She believed it was not her place to comment on the matter at all. For her, being a foreigner in South Africa meant being a neutral observer of the country’s foibles.
We were still confident that we would find other people who would be eager to share their feelings with us. And while every person we approached listened to us patiently, few actually had an opinion on a topic that had captured the attention and furore of the chattering classes so spectacularly in the last week. Yes, some people we spoke to had not heard about the Guptas or the plane saga at all. Others had caught some part of the story from the media but did not quite get what all the fuss was about.
These are some of the people we spoke to.
Tshepo Moitsi, Diepsloot
I heard about the Gupta from the radio. I don’t think it was right. These people came to South Africa to have a wedding. We should have been happy for them. Yes, maybe they should have got permission to land the plane at the airbase, but I think we should have been better to these people visiting our country.
Samuel Bankgala, Braam Fisher
I first heard about the whole Gupta thing on Five FM. I don’t think it was supposed to be such a big story but I don’t know what else the media should be talking about.
Anele Cedric Lweni, Tembisa
I don’t watch the news but when I do, I prefer e-News. It’s interesting. I can take my time watch e-News. It’s done perfectly. I don’t really listen to the radio. I don’t know about the Guptas. I don’t know what happened. I know about the Boston bombings…. [In South African news] I did follow some things about Mangaung and I heard about Oscar Pistorius. I heard that he shot his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day but I don’t really know what happened.
Mthunzi Mthetwa, Protea Glen (Soweto)
Sometimes I read the Daily Sun and other times I follow the news on the phone. I saw the story about Guptas. They were organising to get married here in Sun City. What I know about the Gupta family is that they are very rich. They organised two Ferraris for their wedding! But this whole story about the Gupta family, eish! Most people around me are cross about the aeroplane but from my side, I am not cross. It is what God gave them.
Yashmeen Kasoma, Yeoville
I am more of a sports person. I mostly listen to Yfm or the vernacular radio stations like Ukhozi FM for sports news. I think they do the news well. They are updating us all the time even with international news like what happened with (Louis) Suarez. I heard about the Gupta thing, but I don’t really know what it was about. DM
Guptagate: Rumours of Zuma’s demise have been greatly exaggerated in Daily Maverick
Main photo, from upper left, clockwise: Mthunzi Mthethwa, Yashmeen Kasoma, Samuel Bankgala, Tshepo Moitsi.
King Tutankhamun's ceremonial dagger is forged from meteorites.