South Africa

South Africa

TRAINSPOTTER #GuptaFreaks: Fool’s Mates – How the Presidency was captured, one pawn at a time

amaBhungane and Scorpio, having extensively trawled the be-hashtagged #GuptaLeaks, have found that the Saxonwold Syndicate proposed business ties, however tangential, with four – four! – key staff members within the Presidency. Which proves the old battle adage: in order to capture the king, first you capture the castle. By RICHARD POPLAK.

For the best way to understand how the Gupta brothers managed to insinuate themselves into the sanctum sanctorum of the Presidency, we must turn to the wisdom of an unrivalled chess Grandmaster. Garry Kasparov is by no means an airtight resource – as a Russian opposition politician, he has routinely been outfoxed by Vladimir Putin, and he once said of women, “By their nature, [they] are not exceptional chess players: they are not great fighters.” Clearly, Kaspy hasn’t met Bathabile Dlamini, Baleka Mbete, Nomvula Mokonyane or any of the other ANC green team, who have checkmated an entire country on more than one occasion.

But these are desperate times, and so it is to Kasparov we must turn, largely because he has written and spoken widely about chess (his contemporaries are mostly mute ascetics), and his gnomic utterances serve as the perfect contents for an unofficial Gupta self-help manual.

But before we get to Kasparov’s little aperçus, something from avant-gardist Marchel Duchamp, who was clearly familiar with the ANC: “Chess can be described as the movement of pieces eating one another.”

Game on.

1. I was always hunting for the king, for the mate.”

Even the most rock-solid of fortresses will have its weaknesses. In the Presidency’s case, it was the walls, the windows, the moat, and the front door.

The Guptas worked geographically in order to round on their prey: they courted President Zuma’s three most proximate staff members. Let’s meet the crew. First up is Major-General Muzingaye Mxolisi Dladla, head of the Presidential Protection Service (PPS) since 2010, and Zuma’s bodyguard since anyone cares to recall. (He was the boss’s backstop during the troubled Mbeki era.) The second is Lakela Kaunda, who in her twin capacities as deputy Director-General and Head of Private Office of the President, and Chief Operating Officer in the Presidency, has served Zuma since 2009 (and long before then, in various capacities). The third is Delsey Sithole, who was once private secretary in the Private Office of the President, and is now the Presidency’s Director: Events & Protocol. For good measure, the Guptas also hunted an official in the deputy president’s office: Mogotladi “Mo” Mogano, a one-time assistant private secretary to Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, now chief director in the Office of the Deputy President. (There exists a double connection between Dladla and Mogano – they were once married.)

As quartets go, these cats are Benny Goodman tight. All of their names have popped up on numerous occasions in the #GuptaLeaks; all of them have been fastidiously seduced by the Brothers Grim in an apparent attempt to a) get closer to, and b) keep tabs on, the President. In his tiny bubble, which has shrunk in direct relation to the expansion of his power, Zuma is followed everywhere by four pairs of eyeballs, behind which peer the Guptas.

But let’s not forget that Zuma is himself a consummate chess player and spymaster: equally, these officials could have been trusted intermediaries, peering back at the Guptas.

2. “The best chess masters of every epoch have been closely linked with the values of the society in which they lived and worked. All the changes of a cultural, political, and psychological background are reflected in the style and ideas of their play.”

The Guptas seemed to know, almost by instinct, that Major-General Mxolisi Dladla would serve as the Presidency’s most welcoming welcome mat. As a cop and one-time member of the Echo Squad, which served as Zuma’s personal Republican Guard back when he was deputy president and fending off innumerable enemies, Dladla allegedly commandeered a Zuma-fan club/spy unit within the PPSa Republican Guard inside the Republican Guard, as it were.

Buying a man like this would be expensive, no? So, how about… A TRIP TO THE MALDIVES! Yup, state capture comes cheap in Mzansi, and even as Dladla (and his ex, Mogano) snuggled ever closer with the Guptas, nothing in the #GuptaLeaks suggests the rewards were commensurate with their slavishness. An investigation conducted by amaBhungane and Scorpio can confirm that Air Emirates tickets were ordered by the Guptas for Dladla and his former wife during their grooming period in 2010. Via a statement drafted byelse?Zuma’s attack-dog lawyer, Michael Hulley, Dladla insists that he never packed his bags, and nor did he drink a single mojito on the beaches of the pristine Indian Ocean archipelago. Even so, the investigation has uncovered that a Gupta-linked company called Confident Concept owns a property that has been extensively used by Dladla.

Like most elements of our democracy, the house has subsequently burned to the ground.

But Dladla was nonetheless a useful friend to have, and according to an affidavit unearthed in the leaks, he served as an essential link to the Waterkloof Air Force Base landing, where in April 2013, during a brazen and extreme show of generosity, the Guptas landed a chartered aircraft full of wedding guests. Nothing more needs to be said about the wedding, except for the fact that Dladla, according to Tony Gupta’s own testimony on the affidavit, was asked to organise the blue light VVIP brigade that so helpfully ferried the guests from Waterkloof to Sun City, where many did enjoy mojitos on the (fake) beach. All of which Dladla, as per Hulley, has vigorously denied (but not entirely: Dladla confirms he submitted an affidavit to the subsequent police enquiry into why the vehicles were fitted with illegal blue lights and fake number plates).

Nonetheless, already we have enough circumstantial evidence to send the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, a.k.a. the Hawks, to Taze and arrest everyone within a three-mile radius of the Union Buildings.

Yes, but it’s all a warm-up when you consider Dladla’s former wife was once a co-director in a Gupta-owned company called Karibu Hospitality, along with Tony and the middleman’s middleman, Duduzane Zuma. (The company evaporated in 2013.) She once sent Uncle Tony Gupta her “comprehensive résumé”, but any job offer she was anticipating never came through. Mogano also denies hitting the Maldives with her ex, but she admits to having enjoyed the Guptas’ hospitality during their niece’s wedding, where she spent three nights in Sin City on their sorry, the Free State’s dime.

3. “In chess, we have styleslike in any other field. There are also fashions in the kinds of systems that people play. So I’m trying to know my opponent as much as possible.”

Indeed. So who better to capture next than Zuma’s closest aide-de-camp, the irrepressible Lakela Kaunda? Like most spokeshacks, she was once a journalist manqué, and the first female editor of a daily newspaper in South Africa. (Why do so many Jedis go over to the Dark Side?) She is now the force field that surrounds the Zuma Presidency, and it has been so since his first day in office.

And yet, as the Sunday Times made clear several weeks ago, and for which Kaunda came clean shortly thereafter, while she was strong-arming everyone away from Number One, the Brothers Gupta were drawing ever closer. Back in 2008, when she was still an ANC employee, but before she was working from the Union Buildings, she admitted to having a short-lived directorial stint at a Gupta-linked company called Wavestone, where she earned R20,000 a month for services rendered. Wavestone took on more than R11-million from Oakbay Investments between March 2012 and January 2014, long after Kaunda has resigned her directorship, but during the period when she met the Guptas at least four times in order to discuss “business opportunities”.

Coincidence? Sure. Why not? But now we learn that on 23 January 2013, round the time Kaunda may or may not have been helping the Guptas secure Waterkloof (she insists not), she ceded her 100% share in Ntomb’nkulu Investments CC to her son, Siphesihle, and forwarded the details of the listing to Tony Gupta, with the cryptic instructions: we will use this vehicle.

Kaunda says that this is all just one big misconfusion. “When they [the Guptas] said they wanted to offer a business opportunity and asked if I had a company that could be utilised, I then sent that email about Ntomb’nkulu … the offer of going into business with the family was declined and the matter was never pursued.”

Nothing to see here, right?

But there is much to see with regards to Delsey Sithole, who in 2011 was “redeployed” (read: shitcanned) from the Private Office of the President to the Presidency’s Director: Events & Protocol, allegedly over a “security incident”. In the office of the president. A “security incident”. Emphasis on the scare quotes.

The easiest way to describe Sithole is that she basically is a Gupta. Right after Zuma took the top job in 2009, and for no reason anyone can ascertain, the brothers paid her R8,310.78. (She has not taken the opportunity to explain this transaction.) According to the leaks, she was with the brothers at the opening game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In September 2012, she sent Tony the guest list for a Jacob Zuma Foundation dinner. She was a happy guest at the Sun City wedding. In 2013 she hit Sahara’s Midrand offices, around the same time that Kaunda was getting cozy with the Guptas. In 2014, she solicited a gig from Tony for her soon-to-be husband, name of Phatse Justice Piitso, and he ended up becoming a bit player in the Bell Pottinger-orchestrated #WhiteySucks campaign. (His mini-biography of Brian Molefe is a thing of misty-eyed beauty.)

Four for four. A perfect square. A chessboard. The way the Guptas appear to have planned it, no matter where poor Jacob Zuma looked in his own office, there was a Gupta replicant staring back at him.

4. “I see my own style as being a symbiosis of the styles of Alekhine, Tal and Fischer.”

This quote has no relevance to anything in the #GuptaLeaks, that I’m aware of.

5. “Excelling at chess has long been considered a symbol of more general intelligence. That is an incorrect assumption in my view, as pleasant as it might be.”

The ANC repeatedly tells us how terrified we should be of Western Imperialist pervy-ness with regard to our mineral wealth, while reminding us that we should ever be on the lookout for anyone in a pith helmet carrying an elephant gun. Always vigilant! Invasion is nigh! And yet, the Presidency itself is so porous that Queen Elizabeth herself could walk in unnoticed, and club Zuma into submission with her umbrella.

There is something obviously telling about the fact that a quartet of Zuma’s most trusted associates are so deeply intertwined with the Guptas. Could four grown-ass adults, all deeply essential to the security of the country’s first citizen, be so blithely enticed into the sack with folks as controversial as the Guptas? It’s tempting to suggest that Zuma has encouraged his little flock to enter the Saxonwold duck pond, but who knows? None of this makes much sense any more.

But what we do know is that for almost no money down, the Guptas have gotten shockingly close to the Presidency’s inner mechanisms. And so, once again, Saxonwold’s First Family has excelled at chess, which, as per Kasparov, shouldn’t be considered a symbol of more general intelligence. It’s just that everyone around them is either insanely craven or unbelievably dumb. And it reminds the enthusiast of the quickest possible assault in the game, a shock-and-awe tactic that begins in a flurry and ends in tears:

1. e4 g5 

2. d4 f6

3. Qh5#

Three moves. The king’s toast.

Fool’s mate. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 27, 2011. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler.

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