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South Africans Parody Zuma as Wedding Uses Army Base

South African President Jacob Zuma
A stronger hand for South African President Jacob Zuma may allow him to unite the party ahead of elections next year in Africa’s biggest economy. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

An Indian family is playing monopoly when one of the brothers exclaims that he has found a place where you can buy the president and land your airplane at a military base. The country is South Africa.

The sketch aired May 7 on the Johannesburg-based YFM radio station refers to President Jacob Zuma’s ties to the Gupta family and the landing of an Airbus carrying wedding guests at the high-security Waterkloof Air Force base near Pretoria, the capital. Zuma, whose son Duduzane is a director at the Guptas’ Sahara Computers and Shiva Uranium, says he had no role in approving the use of the military facility and lower level officials were to blame. Many South Africans are skeptical.

“Zuma knows how it happened,” said Sipho Radebe, a 42-year-old delivery driver from Johannesburg’s Soweto township. “He has too close a relationship with this Gupta family.”

The so-called Guptagate controversy has united groups ranging from opposition parties to the ruling African National Congress in their outrage. The two-million member Congress of South African Trade Unions, an ANC ally, called it “an absolute insult to the people of South Africa.”

Zuma, 71, has been tainted by scandals before, including an illegitimate child with a friend’s daughter, the use of $27 million in state funds to upgrade a private home and rape charges, of which he was acquitted in 2006. He has survived them all. In December he strengthened his control over the party after easily defeating a leadership challenge from Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Zuma’s Indecision

At the same time his indecision and the resulting instability in the ANC has dented investor confidence. Zuma allowed a debate of whether to nationalize mines to take place publicly for two years, made legal appointments that were overturned by the courts and allowed the passing of a law that critics including opposition parties say will curb freedom of speech.

Since his inauguration on May 9, 2009, the rand has fallen 7.8 percent against the dollar, the worst performance out of 16 major currencies traded by Bloomberg. The rand strengthened 0.3 percent to 8.9802 as of 2:17 p.m. in Johannesburg.

The ANC agreed to holding a parlimentary debate on the landing, the party said in an e-mailed statement today.

“As an organization that is concerned with the safety and sovereignty of South Africa, we cannot allow a situation whereby our ports of entry and national key points are penetrated with impunity,” it said.

Gupta Connection

To limit the political fallout from the wedding scandal, said Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at the Pretoria-based University of South Africa, Zuma must take “drastic steps to cut the relationship with the Gupta family.”

Zuma has been a friend of the Guptas for about a decade, Sahara Computers Managing Director Atul Gupta said in an interview with the Johannesburg-based Daily Maverick in 2011.

Atul Gupta may be suspended from the ANC, Business Day reported today, citing a letter sent by a branch secretary to the chairman of the branch of the party he belongs to.

Duduzane Zuma, besides holding directorship posts at Sahara Computers and Shiva Uranium, was part of a group including the Guptas that sought 800 million rand ($90 million) for a mining right disputed by Anglo American Plc unit Kumba Iron Ore.

Zuma’s Wife

Zuma’s wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, works for Gupta-controlled JIC Mining Services as a communications officer. The Gupta family’s newspaper, the New Age, benefits from regular advertisements from state-owned companies such as Telkom SA SOC Ltd. and Transnet SOC Ltd.

After their private jet touched down at Waterkloof on April 30, the wedding guests were driven in black BMWs fitted with flashing police lights to a three-day ceremony at the Palace of the Lost City in the Sun City casino and resort 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the west.

A May 5 cartoon in the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times depicts the three Gupta brothers as welcoming bride and groom, Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia, with a fleet of police cars and saluting officers and saying: “For your wedding gift we bought you a country and a president.”

‘Spectacular Chariot’

The wedding, which the couple drove to in a red Maserati, was supposed to showcase South Africa as a tourist destination, the Gupta family said. Aakash entered one of the ceremonies, which was set up in “pink and purple decor adorned with velvet couches, velvet drapes and chandeliers with a digital screen” on a “spectacular chariot,” according to a family statement.

Family spokesmen Gary Naidoo and Haranath Ghosh, who previously said the family obtained all the required approvals for the event, didn’t return calls to their office seeking comment.

Minister of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies attended parts of the celebrations.

In the wake of the controversy, the government arrested 11 police officers and a reservist, and suspended five officials, including the chief of state protocol, three senior military officers and a police major general. Initially, it ordered an investigation into whether the Indian High Commission abused its diplomatic privilege to secure the landing rights.

Zuma later absolved India and said lower level officials were responsible and “are the people we need to act against.”

High Commissioner Virendra Gupta said his country applied for permission to land the plane at the base because ministers and senior political figures were on board. Wedding spokesman Ghosh said the military facility was used with “with full permission of the authorities.”

“South Africans need to understand why and how a single family has come to wield such enormous power and influence over sections of government and its administration,” said Neeshan Balton, executive director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, named for an ANC activist who was imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela.

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