Tokyo Sexwale, Were the Guptas Worth It?

if you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas

After lying down with dogs for over a decade, does the former Apprentice SA host want the public to believe he is not now getting up without fleas? Like his American Apprentice counterpart, Tokyo Sexwale seems to know so well how to play the public and the media.

In Brief

  • Is the former Apprentice SA host borrowing from his American counterpart, Donald Trump in playing the public?
  • Tokyo Sexwale has been in bed with the Guptas for more than a decade, what has been his accrued benefits?
  • Should we believe he truly never knew what his business associates have been cooking?
  • The manual deployed by the Guptas in capturing various state corporations in South Africa, is a replica of one that had failed to yield similar returns in Angola a decade ago
  • Disclosure: A few months after the Guptas launched The New Age, uSpiked’s editor unsuccessfully sought to join the publication’s editorial team to start an investigative unit.

Spin has always been a part of politics the world over and it will always be. Whether it is the Bell Pottingers of this world or corporations and politicians doing their own spins, the end-game is always the same, to misdirect the narrative or to help the subject’s realignment.

And if there's one nation with a long history of controlling messages and images, it's Donald Trump's USA. Historian David Greenberg even wrote a book about it in 2016, Republic of Spin that details the century-long rise of the White House spin machine.

In South Africa, the murky world of spin and misinformation existed long before the arrival of Bell Pottinger. It's not surprising then that some people have seized the narrative for their own ends amid the #StateCapture scandal.

The questions now are; to what extent is spin manipulating the public and the media? Should the spin be acceptable as long as the content conforms to the trending public sentiments?

In April 2016 businessman, politician and former Apprentice SA TV show host, Tokyo Sexwale, wrote an open letter to Ajay Gupta urging him to atone for any wrongdoing. He has since joined others calling for President Jacob Zuma to step down.

In the letter, Sexwale described state capture as “a concept which in the annals of bodies like the IMF and World Bank, refers to the systemic corruption of government officials, the judiciary or legislature especially by private business interests for profit.”

That definition is spot on. But what if we replaced the word 'government' with 'public'? We would have public capture by political and corporate elites with big enough muscles to influence public discourse. And if they lack the influence, they would just identify the trending narrative of the moment and jump onto the bandwagon.

uSpiked would have loved to laud Sexwale's condemnation of state capture, but he can't hoodwink us. He has been a close friend and business associate of the Guptas for more than a decade, yet he would like the public to believe he didn't know what was happening within entities controlled by the family, including Trillian Capital Partners (Pty) Ltd. For months, as one arsenal after another was being dished, he remained on the fence.

Sexwale is a shrewd businessman who didn't become successful by remaining in the background. He is also a typical politician, who was once accused of pulling a publicity stunt in Diepsloot.

In his 2007 book, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, William Mervin Gumede, a former Clive Menell Fellow at Duke University wrote of the newly wealthy black South Africans. “It isn’t even as though newly rich blacks have been stellar philanthropists. Their contribution to social responsibility programmes is negligible, although they enthusiastically swell the ANC party coffers. Sexwale even made a R1-million donation to the New National Party. At the end of 2004, he also paid the salaries of staff at the ANC’s Luthuli House head office. It is very difficult to see how senior ANC leaders will not feel an obligation to a paymaster.”

Gumede’s records aside, Sexwale’s statement some years back during his quest for ANC’s top leadership battle that without the ‘new black money’, the ANC’s Luthuli House would be without working phone lines, could not remain unnoticed to our investigation. It’s called being smart enough to identify the trend of public discourse and taking full advantage of it.

Playing the public and the media can’t exclusively be apportioned to Tokyo Sexwale. The players come in all kinds and forms. AllanGray for instance, after enjoying Net1’s ill-gotten proceeds of social grant, instantly became the altar boys when they called on Net1 to do the right thing. But did they refund any of the benefits they had accrued from the Net1 deal? The same could also be asked of Cricket SA that has continued to receive millions of rands from the Gupta’s Sahara for Stadia naming rights. How much of the millions were plundered from state corporations like Transnet and Eskom?

On the political front, the ANC’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa’s light has been shining brighter ever since he joined the choir calling out against the State Capture. ‘He would be the best president for the country’, is a sentiment that is now regularly being heard in pubs and braai places and dinner tables.

Ramaphosa has however not provided comprehensive answers to questions he postponed during his interview with the Miners Shot Down’s Rehad Desai. “I prefer not to answer that one…” was his standard response.

It is called realignment of positions to suit the prevailing trends.

When condemning state capture, should we only be concerned with that of our own and not the neighbours’? Other than being caught in their lies, the other thing politicians don’t like is being reminded of past events. How would Sexwale react to being reminded of events of nearly ten years ago when his friends and business associates unsuccessfully attempted to capture the Angolan presidency?

In 2007, Utima Recursos LDA, an investment vehicle created to empower Angolan War Veterans, got blacklisted from doing business with the Angolan government after they got in bed with the conniving Gupta brothers. Through the brothers’ then one-year-old Oakbay Investments (Pty) Ltd. Utima had enlisted them to score big in the country’s mining and oil exploration concessions.

Had the Guptas been keen to maintain clean hands in their bid, being associated with the war vets of Angola was a sure means to access Luanda’s presidency. That association ensured their letter to President José Eduardo dos Santos was promptly delivered right to the presidency.

The Guptas captured more than the state. How much of the Eskom's plundered billions went to Cricket SA for stadia's naming rights and various individual cricketers roped in as Sahara's brand ambassadors? Shouldn't we expect some refunds?

In the letter dated November 5, 2007, for the attention of President dos Santos, Jagdish R Parekh, the MD of Oakbay Investments wrote:

“Enclose herewith are details of Oakbay Investments (Pty) Ltd. Oakbay is a South African registered company whose main shareholders are of Indian origin and which has extensive interest in India as well as in South Africa. Oakbay is also in a unique strategic alliance with Utima Recursos LDA. Utima, an Angolan registered Company, has been formed within the context of a wider mission to contribute significant returns to its shareholders as well as a wider constituency of Angolan War Veterans.”

Parekh went further to introduce Reliance Limited, an Indian private company that was ‘supporting’ Oakbay’s bid for oil concessions.

The letter, the Guptas appeared to have believed, would open doors to the

Luanda presidency for easy capture. Had that worked, Angola's state oil company Sanangol would have granted them the oil exploration rights they desperately wanted.

But as was reported by uSpiked's editor in the July 2008 edition of investigative magazine Noseweek, that marriage with Angolan struggle heroes was fatally annulled after the Guptas were discovered to have blatantly lied about their association with Indian resource leader, Reliance Limited.

Now Sexwale would like the South African public and the world to believe that he had missed the revelations that had outlined the family’s modus operandi. Or did he simply condone their scheme because the target was another state?

State capture is as deplorable across borders as within. Anti-corruption organisations cross borders to out corrupt companies and their facilitators. Just ask the head of forensics department at ENS Africa, Steven Powell. Powell has extensive knowledge of white-collar crimes. When not undertaking investigations, he spends his time advising corporations and state employees on the perils of corporate sleaze. Clearly, the Guptas would've benefitted from Powell’s memos.

Had the Guptas succeeded in their 2007 attempted capture of Angolan presidency, they would have enjoyed some very lucrative oil and gas exploration concessions, second only to the Chinese. This was way before Jacob Zuma became the president of the ANC and the Republic. Cited records at the time showed Zuma was already being courted for the unholy union that has now cost South Africans billions of rands and eroded his presidency.

The ingenuity of the Guptas was akin to that of seasoned gamblers. They spread their protection bets in all factions within the ANC and even the opposition, Democratic Alliance. They were also reported to be shameless name-droppers. They claimed to have dined with former president Thabo Mbeki and boasted of their shared executive board seats with South African black multi-millionaires, including Sexwale.

The manual used on the Angolan War Veterans seems to be identical to some degrees to the one deployed on certain members of the MK Vets. During this investigation, uSpiked was unable to establish under what circumstances the R53m default judgement awarded by a Johannesburg High Court was rescinded. Whatever the reasons, the Guptas’ name dropping halted the dreams of financial glories of the war veterans of Angola.

The judgement notwithstanding, the Oakbay’s claimed links with Reliance Limited using records sourced from the internet would have been enough to warn its South African business partners – including the JSE Ltd. that later allowed it to be listed. And as ignorance is no defence in law, the likes of Sexwale either knew what their associates were involved in and decided to look the other way, or exercised poor business and governance judgements.

When Sexwale condemned his friends’ role in the state capture, uSpiked decided to look into how he had handled the failed capture of the Angolan state, almost ten years ago. This reporter was informed by multiple sources that a comprehensive report was delivered to Sexwale warning him of the family.

Our repeated attempts to reach the mogul were unsuccessful. One of his handlers said they would 'evaluate uSpiked’s request for an interview on State Capture and decide whether to grant access or not'. [By the time of publishing, nobody had responded to us – maybe we just have to wait for the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, to hear him exercise his rights to remain silent -editor].

Without getting these answers from the tycoon, his present outbursts, in the least, could be deemed as yet another publicity stance. Alternatively, it could be a self-preservation against the forecasted Gupta Tsunami, which is now uprooting all structures in their electronic path.

Didn't know or just looked the other way?

A former MK veteran who spoke to uSpiked on condition of anonymity (for fear of retribution) couldn’t have put it any better; “It is disappointing to watch the beneficiaries of the sweat and blood of our comrades. Our brothers and sisters lost their lives, and for what?  A few well-connected people are living large while the majority of South Africans wallow in poverty. We fought so that everyone can have equal opportunities and access to resources.”

"If you asked me, Tokyo is trying to avoid the storm awaiting everyone linked to the Guptas. If it wasn’t for the leaked emails (#GuptaLeaks), Adv. (Geoff) Budlender’s half-baked report might never have seen the light of day. Tokyo knew Ajay quite well and mentions many interactions with him in his open letter. Why write an open letter to someone you have an open door policy with?”

Agreeing with Sexwale that it’s more than meets the eye, the veteran went further to urge the public not to overlook calls for the State Capture inquiries to go beyond the Guptas; “It needs to go as far as the early ‘90s. Most of the comrade billionaires we have today were the first to be captured one way or another by the monopoly capitals they are now demonising.”

A big problem for Tokyo and his likes is the Internet. As long as information gets published online, it will remain available and accessible. The news circle has moved from the previous fourteen days to forever. That is not good for spinners.

Editor’s Note:

I may disagree with views and opinions that are different from mine. But I would defend everyone's right to be heard. Tokyo Sexwale, like every citizen, has every right to condemn the state capture. uSpiked would still readily provide him with the platform to respond to unaddressed issues.

One thing I disagree with are the calls from some quarters for the disbandment of The New Age and ANN7 simply because they belong to the Guptas. To shun a media house and its journalists because of the improprieties (perceived or proven) of owners would create a bad precedent. There are now attempts to shut down Al-Jazeera and India's NDTV  because the powers-that-be don't like their owners principals and by extension their respective views.

The question we asked Sexwale, “was it worth it?” should also apply to all of us. Before we throw stones, we must ensure we don't live in glass houses. Are journalists at The New Age and ANN7 less qualified than us? Are their owners more improper than ours? How many of us have walked away from toxic newsroom environments?

Editorial managers in all media houses at any given time would be faced with some often hard choices. A few months ago, a friend indirectly asked of uSpiked to consider pulling down a report we had published. The decision to not entertain that may have cost us a friend, but when we say ‘dissemination beyond fear’, we mean just that.

Would I have worked at The New Age? The answer is yes. Whether I work for a specific media house or not, whether I agree with their editorial policies or not, I will always fight for their rights to be. Information belongs to the public. No single entity should have exclusive rights to its dissemination.