South Africa

South Africa, Politics

Guptas vs Gordhan: Mcebisi Jonas strikes back at Ajay Gupta’s alternative version of history

In the tussle between President Jacob Zuma and opponents of state capture, the key frontline is a particular meeting between Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas, and the head of the Guptas, Ajay Gupta. It’s important, because this meeting holds the key to so much that happened later, the firing of Nhlanhla Nene is surely tied to it and the political act by Jonas of going public about the meeting was surely a galvanising moment in the fightback against the Guptas. But more than that, this meeting actually defines what the fight is about. An attempt, it seems, by the Guptas to literally buy our government, through its constitutionally mandated head. Ajay Gupta has used court papers to deny that he met with Jonas. Jonas has now filed his reply in court papers, as part of the application by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, asking a court for a declaratory order that he cannot force the banks to continue their business relationships with the Gupta family. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

In the end, like all political fights, the battle between the Guptas and Pravin Gordhan comes down to credibility. Who do you believe. This means that if you believe Jonas’s version of this meeting, you probably also believe that the Guptas have bought Zuma, and thus a large part of government. As a result, it is important to get all of the facts absolutely correct.

The details of this meeting first became important when the then Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, published her State of Capture report. In the report, she detailed the evidence she’d received from Jonas about this meeting. He explained that he had ended up at the Gupta home/compound/city block on October 23, 2015. During that meeting he’d been told by a member of the Gupta family that they could ensure he would be promoted to the position of Finance Minister, and that if he did what was asked, he would receive a sum of R600-million. As a detail, he also mentioned that there was R600,000 available for him to take right away, in cash.

In a series of affidavits filed last week, Ajay Gupta flatly denied that he’d actually met Jonas, at his home. He said that Jonas was “blatantly dishonest” about the event, and that they’d never actually met. To bolster his story, he also supplied affidavits from two other people who were, according to Jonas, present. They were Duduzane Zuma (yes, him) and Fana Hlongwane (who was made famous, and rich, during the arms deal).

But there is a problem with the dates. As Jonas has pointed out (any many others noticed on Twitter last week), the date of the meeting that is mentioned by Duduzane Zuma and Hlongwane is October 25, 2017. Clearly a time machine is necessary to fully understand the course of events. But Jonas goes further, because he says, even if this problem is rectified, and they do mean October 25, 2015, the date of the meeting was actually October 23, 2015. Presumably, lawyers will agree that this mistake makes their documents entirely useless. They would, at the very least, have to do it all again. And perhaps write out some lines as punishment.

But Jonas has another problem with their version. Because he says, in his first statement about this meeting, he refers to “members of the Gupta family being present” when he went to Saxonwold. Just the fact that they say Ajay Gupta was not present doesn’t mean that other members of the family were not. As an aside, he also appears to ask why the meeting would be held at the Gupta residence without his authorisation. Indeed.

Jonas also takes the time to respond to a criticism of him by the Guptas. They say that he was wrong not to go public with this all sooner. His response is that they only brought their version of events – he calls it a “conspiracy theory” – 12 months after the events in question. It’s a good point, and one that any advocate for the Guptas is going to battle to deal with in court.

If there is one thing that Jonas has done here, it’s to prove that he completely remembers the sequence of events, and is able to provide the details of them consistently. This matters. Judges look for this kind of thing during cross-examination, should it ever come to that. But the public, in their court, find it important too. Jonas gave a video description of what happened. The Guptas waited several months before giving any kind of version, and then did so through a written, legal response (to be fair, as this reporter can attest, their one known attempt to provide a video explanation did not end well…). And then, when they did, they didn’t even get the dates right.

Jonas is surely ahead. But it’s easy for him to be ahead in this game. He hasn’t lied. DM

Photo: Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas (L), Ajay Gupta (R)


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